It is difficult not to be political this year. It seems that everywhere you go, every conversation you have, every social media post that you read is focused on the election. But not just on the election, on words and allegations, insults and attacks that are at the lowest possible level. It’s an ugliness that is base, that is profound, that is disturbing. My mother often said (and believed) that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” She was a person for whom the word “inappropriate” was the ultimate criticism, said with a look that brooked no disagreement.
All of this has caused me to think, with some real concern, about the way we treat one another, about the lesson that is being taught to all of us, and to future generations, about kindness, about courtesy, about respect. Working with older adults in settings from the community to assisted living to long term care, we know that kindness more than anything else makes the difference in how people respond and in how they view their care. In fact, there have been studies done that indicate that the quality of the interpersonal relationship between an individual and a caregiver, specifically a physician, impacts the number of lawsuits brought against that individual.
If kindness matters, how do we teach it, how do we make it a part of our culture, not just in older adult services but across the board? I believe it begins with modeling behavior, with listening and showing respect. Kindness is reflected in the smile you share with another, with eye contact and with giving the other person your complete attention.
We work hard with our staff to help them see each person they care for as an individual, to look beyond their disease and disability and remember that they are a person first. We help them to learn someone’s history and story so they can better relate to the individual and understand their needs and preferences. We stress the value of words, calling someone by name, even knowing the way they want to be addressed.
Kindness means helping without always being asked, being aware of others and reaching out to make a difference. It means anticipating the needs of others, whether it is your colleagues or those for whom you care, and going above and beyond to meet those needs. Kindness means taking an extra second to show you care and doing it not just consistently, but always.
In many ways this year’s election campaign has set a new, and lower, standard for behavior. It’s a troubling one that seems to validate, even endorse, offensiveness and negativity. This is not the way we want to be treated in our lives nor the way we want our loved ones to be treated. How do we change that? Where does the change happen? With each of us, in every interaction, today and every day.