“In the United States, 34 million children have had at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) – ranging from abuse or neglect to parental incarceration or addiction. Children living in poverty are more likely to have multiple ACEs, compounding the effects of economic insecurity. In addition, the current opioid epidemic is devastating families and overwhelming the foster care system, and many school populations include refugee children who have fled dangerous conditions. Many classrooms in America are touched by trauma.”
The passage above is from the book The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Reading the book has prompted me to look at each patient with as much kindness as possible, regardless of their behavior, knowing that judging their behavior when I have no idea of the reason behind it is not leading a life of grace or kindness. We must listen with kindness.
With that in mind, please read this powerful piece from psychologist Angela Duckworth:
Rich Maiore was 28 when he first heard of Alex Scott.
Rich’s day had started out like any other. He worked in marketing and had driven to a convenience store in his territory to stack soda bottles in a promotional display. One by one, he turned the bottles so that their labels lined up just so.
And then Rich happened to look up.
On the store’s television, the Today show was introducing a little girl with a beaming smile and bald head who, Rich learned, had been fighting cancer since she was one year old.
Like a lot of kids, Alex wanted to set up a lemonade stand in her front yard. But Alex’s purpose was unusual: She aimed to give all of the profits to doctors so they could “help other kids like they helped me.”
Four-year old Alex raised $2,000 in one day. And then she raised twice that. Soon, other children in the neighborhood were raising money, too, and by the time she was asked to tell her story on Today, the goal was to raise a million dollars for pediatric cancer research.
“Honestly, I felt ashamed,” Rich told me. “Here was this little girl doing something so incredible. What was I doing? Adjusting soda bottles. I realized I wanted to help other people.”
The instinct to help others runs as deep in human nature as any other. But as we chase other goals, it’s easy to neglect.
Here are four questions for self-reflection, based on science, from our Kindness Playbook:
- I pay attention to what other people want or need to try to figure out how I can help.
- I go out of my way to do favors for others, speak up to support them, share what I have, or simply listen when they need a friend.
- I consciously make small sacrifices to be kind to others, like taking a few minutes to do an extra chore or listening to a story even if I’m not in the mood for it.
- I try to think about how much my actions mean to others instead of how much of a burden they are for me.
Considering what you could be—and aren’t yet—doing might inspire you to make a small change in your life.
Or, like Rich Maiore, you might decide to make a big one.
Within a month of seeing Alex on television, Rich quit his job. “I decided there was only a finite amount of time I had on the planet. I didn’t want to spend that time selling sugar water.”
Over the next several years, while many of his peers grew wealthy, Rich followed roads less traveled. He worked at a series of non-profit organizations, finally ending up starting a company of his own connecting charities like Alex’s Lemonade Stand to large corporations like the one he used to work for.
And because he’d made a solemn vow “to help that little girl,” it was in this new position that he was one day able to introduce himself to Alex’s parents and tell them that the insurance giant Northwestern Mutual was interested in becoming a major sponsor.
Alex died at the age of 8, days after she celebrated raising a million dollars for pediatric cancer research. Today, her foundation has raised $150 million—and counting. Northwestern Mutual is the charity’s single largest supporter.
Don’t wait to be hit by an epiphany. You can make a difference in ways both small and large every day with your patients.
Do be kind. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Unlike Rich Maiore, my girls Amanda and Lucy had the good fortune of learning about Alex Scott when they were very young.
Like many schools in the neighborhood—just a few miles from the Scott family home—our local preschool held an Alex’s Lemonade Stand each summer.
In preparation, Amanda and Lucy and all their classmates made signs, checked their supplies, and urged parents, grandparents, and anyone who’d listen to stop by.
On the big day, my husband, Jason, and I took time off from work and stood in line and bought glasses of lemonade. We bought yellow bracelets that said “One Cup at a Time.” And we listened as these children, including our own, retold the story of a little girl just about their age who had a terrible disease and a big heart.
We watched, and they watched, a whole neighborhood of families stop what they were doing and, for a moment, let themselves be inspired by a single act of kindness that grew larger than anyone could have ever dreamed.
What happens when we see other people act generously?
For a long time, social scientists have known that after witnessing another person help others we tend to act more kindly ourselves. Kindness is contagious.
But what’s been discovered recently is that in the person who does the witnessing, kindness spreads.
For instance, in one lab experiment, seeing someone make a donation led observers to make more donations themselves and, in addition, to write longer and more empathic notes to strangers in need.
It’s also been shown that children tend to imitate role models with whom they have more in common. So if we want our kids to be kind, not only should we model kindness ourselves, we should go out of our way to expose them to exemplars their own age.
Try helping your kids set up a lemonade stand of their own. They’ll be a model of, and a witness to, acts of kindness that will both inspire others and—like the little candy heart that melted in Raggedy Ann—spread within themselves.
Taking Angela Duckworth’s message to heart, we should look for opportunities to be an example of kindness to our children and our patients. It is an incredible gift.
Two final thoughts:
Dr Barge (who wrote the book Are you the Doctor, Doctor?) would say, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
In every visit never forget the human side of the person in front of you. That’s where the connection is happening.
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