Sunday, April 27, 2014

Six Pillars of Civility - Gratitude

Gratitude is the fifth precept of what I refer to as the Six Pillars of Civility. Introduced over the past month, these principles are what I consider to be the fundamental building blocks of any healthy community.

'Thank you' is one of the first phrases we teach our children. This indicates that culturally, showing gratitude is important to us, in fact this acknowledgement plays an important role in every civil society. If we become numb to gratitude, a domino effect takes place, and civility unravels, leaving awareness, compassion, and humility in its wake.

Gratitude is an emotional state of mind. It is a feeling that requires action.  Such action can take the form of thanking someone for an act of kindness. Or it can also be as simple as sitting quietly and experiencing the feeling of appreciation. 

Gratitude is not a one-way street to be fully realized. In a previous column, I discussed the importance of “you’re welcome”. This simple phrase completes the exchange with validation and respect.

Unfortunately, entitlement and avarice invade too many of our encounters, and we forget not only our manners, but what it means to take a moment to give thanks, and not to just take whatever we want. We take too much for granted - our health, our access to food and shelter, good friends, a comfortable life style, and the list goes on. I wonder what the world would be like if we took some time every day to be grateful for our many blessings - including life itself.

A local entrepreneur, Adrian Nadeau, feels strongly enough about the importance of expressing gratitude that he offers a daily opportunity ( to express in writing what we are grateful for. I receive an email every morning reminding me to express my gratitude. Admittedly I start the New Year off diligently writing a short phrase or sentence stating what I am grateful for. It may be something as simple as a good friend, the warmth of sunshine on my face, or a delicious meal. I doubt I am alone in feeling that what I should acknowledge as something to be grateful for needs to be something more significant. This is not the case. In fact it is the very opposite. The very point of this column and this principle is that we need to be grateful for everything – large and small alike.

Although it is difficult, if not impossible at times, even life’s most difficult challenges deserve our gratitude. Without these moments in our lives, we would not grow or develop into responsible community members.

Gratitude is also a critical component in any healthy, sustainable work environment. It is an action that must come from the top down, and it must flow freely, and be encouraged enthusiastically. Gratitude is contagious. When it is expressed with sincerity, it has the amazing power to transform an uninspired business and work place into a productive, profitable one. Gratitude serves as a vital nutrient to everything it touches.

In the highly competitive business environment in which most of us work, praise is often in short supply, but the need is actually tremendous. Employees work far more effectively when they are encouraged through signs of gratitude that the work they are doing is appreciated. Not only does the work need to be acknowledged as ‘a job well done’, the message needs to be delivered every day. Any “boss” who does not take the time to praise his or her workers, colleagues, or even clients is not using the most powerful tool he possesses.

The positive results of gratitude happen every day in our lives. It is up to us to take the moments to express and to receive the benefits of being grateful. Stop and notice what is around you, and see the goodness in the people you meet each day. What you come away with is a feeling of peace, and perhaps the discovery of something new for which to be grateful.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Six Pillars of Civility - Responsibility

Responsibility is the fourth building block of the six pillars of civility. Taking responsibility for our commitments is necessary for the society in which we live to survive in a civil way. If we all shirked our responsibilities, chaos would ensue. However, we need to discern what is our responsibility and what is not. Too often we take on the burden of other people’s responsibilities when in fact the matter is none of our business. I know how this works because I am guilty of doing just that. I am naturally a fixer. Fixers tend to meddle inappropriately because we think we can be helpful. This isn’t usually the case however, and such acts most often lead to conflict.

Have you ever noticed how often people fail to take responsibility for their own actions, but rarely hesitate to let other people exactly what they should be doing? Most of us fall prey to this trap from to time. We rationalize this by saying we care about the other person and don’t want them to make the same mistakes we’ve made, or we want to help them save time or money. The fact of the matter is that these challenges are not ours; they are theirs. Just as we learned from making mistakes, so they must be allowed to learn from their mistakes.

As adults, the first real responsibility we have is for our children and ourselves. This includes how we conduct ourselves; how we relate to others; and how we fit into our community. However, even early on in life we are usually given responsibility for helping around the house. Sometimes these tasks are rewarded with a weekly allowance. We take responsibility for certain chores. This teaches us the value of our obligations in our homes. These tasks are not always rewarded with cash, but are simply seen as pulling one’s own weight. Others are relying on us to do something, to be responsible, and we quickly learn that by keeping up our end of the bargain makes for smooth sailing. Letting down our end of the bargain causes grief for us and for others.

Building on the pillars I have previously discussed, when we find ourselves guilty of intruding in someone else’s life, while examining our motives, we need to have compassion for ourselves and for those whom we feel compelled to help. Such impositions usually come with an unhealthy dose of judgment. This is the perfect time to check our humility gauge. This is an important time to be more aware of just how we are affecting someone else. Are we in fact being helpful, or just being nosy, judgmental, and controlling? Are we bullying them into adopting our path, denying them the right to follow their own?  

There are times when we do not take responsibility for our actions, nor are we willing to accept the consequences for our actions. How often do we blame others for our own unfortunate situations? This refusal to own up and be prepared to accept the consequences for our actions leads to an unrealistic state. This false existence manifests itself as living a lie or lies, and can cause dishonesty, incivility, and rudeness.

No matter what our situation may be, we almost always share some responsibility, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little; and discovering this unlocks the mysteries to many of life's quandaries.

Of course, there is always an alternate to grabbing too much responsibility for someone else’s predicaments, which is simply 'mind your own business'. As much as we think we know what's best for others, it's not our responsibility to make their choices for them. Allow people to make the choice that is right for them.

In the business arena, misplaced responsibility – as I refer to it – can be disastrous! My best advice is to err on the side of caution. Take as much personal responsibility as is reasonably possible for any situation. And avoid like the plague giving your unsolicited opinion on how others should conduct business or behave. Don’t forget the law of physics that states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is going to happen whether we force it or not.

Distinguishing between the time to help or not to help is a natural way to take responsibility in any situation. This quality is developed during childhood and adolescence. As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, or those for whom we care, is the ability to discern the difference between what is our business and what is not. This seems like a simple enough matter, but too often we don’t place a high enough priority on this fundamental principle.

Whether at home or at work, having a clear understanding of the importance of the pillar of responsibility, and acting accordingly, will impact your success, your level of happiness, and the mutual respect we as human beings depend upon so strongly. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Six Pillars of Civility - Awareness

Awareness is the third pillar of civility in this series, The Six Pillars of Civility. These fundamental human qualities are all required in equal balance in our lives in order for us to help build and sustain a healthy community. In the fast-paced, time-starved lifestyle many of us choose to follow, being aware of the people and events around us, and how we affect them seems to vanish. I view this as a tragedy and a real danger to any community where civility is the desired tone.

How often are we too busy to congratulate our friends and family for reaching certain milestones and accomplishments in their lives? None of us seems to be immune from this affliction today. We forget birthdays and anniversaries; and we don’t seem to have time to write simple thank you notes. A lot of us can’t even manage to RSVP an invitation. Some might ask, “What’s the big deal?” In my opinion, the “big deal” is the erosion to friendships and important connections that we as human beings desire and need. A healthy society requires many, many connections. None of us can live in a vacuum. We need one another for survival. Does it not make sense for awareness to be a much higher priority in our daily lives? Could we potentially be happier as a result?

I have found that by taking the time to check my surroundings on a regular basis allows me to engage even more attentively with my associates. I can be more conscious of my place in the world and attuned to people and things around me. With awareness comes security and confidence. We cannot forget that as human beings, we make mistakes, we have personal challenges, and we want to succeed. With greater awareness, we accommodate compassion and humility, the first two pillars of civility discussed in these pages previously.

Too often we glide through life, whether at home or at work, with no real sense of what’s happening. Sometimes we are oblivious because we are so wrapped up in our own personal lives that it appears that we don’t actually care about other people. We miss out by elimination, and too narrow a focus.

When this happens in the workplace, feelings of isolation can develop, bringing progress to a screeching halt. It can also impede our ability to succeed in our chosen career. Teamwork is usually a vital component to a healthy and encouraging business environment. Teamwork requires an acute awareness of what our other teammates are doing. Without this finely honed skill, everyone suffers.

Awareness brings to mind two familiar phrases. One is 'deer in headlights'. The other is 'stop to smell the roses'. How often are we caught unawares; and how many times do we feel life is rushing by us too quickly to stop and really enjoy what we are doing, and with whom we are doing it - even if it is ourselves? Slowing down to allow the blur of life to come into focus actually helps us to achieve more of our goals, whatever they may be – a happy family, a successful career, even both?

Taking the time to assess what we are doing, what our real intentions are for doing it, and how this all impacts those around us is how we can live most happily and work most effectively. Awareness leads to respectful interactions with everyone we encounter. This dynamic is essential to maintaining a healthy productive work environment, as well as in familial or social situations. Retaining the best talent in any given circumstance requires awareness, respectful communication, and compassion.

How aware are you of the impact you have on your fellow human beings? Take a step back and examine the importance of awareness. If you want to improve the climate in your life, raise your level of awareness. People will notice.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Six Pillars of Civility - Humility

Humility is the second of the Six Pillars of Civility. These six pillars evolved from a theory I have been developing about civility and how it pertains to our lives and our interconnectedness with everything around us. I hope you will occasionally stop and consider how these foundational principles are at play in your life, the lives of your family and the broader community in which you live and work.

I remember many years ago while I was living in New York, a group of friends got together and formed an organization similar to the Make a Wish Foundation. Nothing can be more humbling than reaching out to a child whom you know will not grow into a young adult. Granting him or her a wish, showering some happiness and temporary relief from the harsh realities of life is a true act of kindness. Reading all of the applications and deciding from a needs-based assessment which child’s wish will be granted is an onerous task. When the committee of volunteer fundraisers met, the first rule was to “check your attitude at the door”. Enter this gathering with positive intentions in order to grant a wish. Think beyond yourselves and consider what it will mean to someone in great need of joy. We all need to be reminded from time to time that there are many people in the world who are sustained by the kindness of others. Humility reminds us that on almost every level, we are all equals. The continued success of this group and many, many others similar to it, testifies to just how important this service is to both the givers and the receivers.

Connecting on a level of humility exposes us to ourselves and to others in ways that can overstep our comfort zones. We gain new perspectives when we allow ourselves to embrace others. We naturally try to protect ourselves from fear and insecurity but learn that we must take risks in order to benefit those in need. I say take the risk. These connections are often the strongest and most meaningful and intimate that we will ever be lucky enough to make.

It is not uncommon in the workplace to hear people bandy around the word humility, where it is often misunderstood. To me, in a nutshell, it boils down to the core principle that there are no 'big shots'. No matter what our professional position or achievements, no matter our social station, and no matter our wealth or education, we all have great value. This is not to say that we cannot hold people in high regard, or that without them our lives would be less fulfilling. But the shoe is often on the other foot, and we too are held in high regard and help to fulfill others’ lives more times than we may ever know.

In a healthy business climate, teamwork is vitally important. This dynamic is sadly missing in too many workplaces today and has a severe effect on a company’s bottom line. A lack of humility, especially at the highest levels, is also one of the main reasons why so many good employees leave to find employment with companies where such a toxic climate is not present.

Take a moment to consider what the humility level is in your place of employment, especially if you are an executive. Good leaders are measured by their ability to make their employees feel valuable, and ought to reflect the performance of leadership. If there is a weak link in your business, taking a look at your humility meter may be a good idea!

Any responsible company should be acutely aware of this sort of frightening attrition rate and act quickly to reverse it. Sadly, reversing such a dynamic within a company takes time. Sometimes it never even happens. In the meantime, scores of employees’ lives are being negatively affected. Is this how we want to be treating one another? Think about it!

Humility is a human quality that we usually display with equal ignorance or skill whether at home, on the ball field, or at work. Being kind and understanding needs to begin at home. For those of us who were raised to believe that people are of different value, we need to stop and as any GPS system will instruct – Recalculate! The next generation needs to be raised in a sustainable environment where everyone reveres humility. Let’s try to practice the essentials of self worth, how we relate to others, the value of socialization, and an all-encompassing outlook of how each of us fits into the world puzzle.