Originally posted 2018. This resolution never dies – and it works! Reposted below–
Holiday season is over, and the parties and feasts have come and gone. Now is the time for a fresh start. If you’re like me, it’s a struggle to stick to New Year’s resolutions. My longest record for waking up earlier to exercise or meditate? Six days.
And yet, I’m on another resolution. But this one’s different; it’s been brewing in my heart for a long time, and my commitment is to continue it rather than start fresh. It’s something we tend to reserve for our personal lives but rarely – extremely rarely – practice in our working lives. The challenge: to express and behave with love, specifically, at work.
“What? Love at work?” Of course, I don’t mean crushes and affairs with co-workers. The love I’m talking about is more enduring and often more profound, a kind of “brotherly love” that our romance-crazed modern culture tends to undervalue and ignore. Platonic feelings between family and friends, neighbors and community members – these benevolent fellowships between human beings are less exhilarating than the love between Romeo and Juliet but so much more meaningful in their impact, which swell and reverberate well beyond two people and into the surrounding environment.
What does it mean to express love? It means showing kindness whether it is deserved or not. Forgiving others for their mistakes. Holding people in high regard despite their flawed behavior. Giving people the benefit of the doubt and withholding judgment. Saying “I’m sorry” first and suspending assumptions.
Oh, those assumptions… how many times have I alienated myself by angrily retreating into a private world of judgments and assumptions? “How dare she cut me off, she’s so inconsiderate,” “He’s mean and he hates me,” “How could so-and-so act like that, what a jerk.” But sometimes, I’ll approach a situation differently and I acknowledge these truths:
that we all can’t possibly be our best 100% of the time
that we all have bad days and dark moods
that we often don’t know the impact of our words and actions on other people, and unintentionally or blindly hurt others
I think about how rarely we choose to practice and express love at work. Why is it so hard to regard others from a stance of love? Why are we too often reactive, defensive, or aggressive, retreating to our silos and alliances? Unfortunately, most of our work environments discourage us from cultivating loving behavior. We are only as good as the systems in which we work. A company culture that heavily values individual accomplishment over collective achievement, or rewards leaders and managers for their personal contribution to profit/revenue instead of their ability to develop people and create positive relationships, will breed competition and isolation. Organizations that value profit and productivity, speed and efficiency, and production over process far above human relationships and purpose will not engender kindness and compassion amongst people.
We cannot treat people with love if surviving, much less thriving, in the workplace means regarding our colleagues as competitors, rivals, and threats. We pay an extreme price for this: our workplaces become toxic, dysfunctional, and deeply distressed. Under these circumstances, we can almost never be our best. We can all relate to this reality.
Until we change the nature of our work and the culture of our workplace environments, and reform our workplace systems and structures in a way that redefines our organizations as living and breathing human-centered communities, it is up to each of us – person to person – to model a loving way of interacting and working with each other.
I am inspired by my colleague who once struggled with a difficult member on her team. In her point of view, he was obnoxious, rude, arrogant…you name it. How easy it was for her to dismiss him and just barely get on with the project. Instead, she made a radical decision: “I’m going to love this person, plain and simple.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“I will love the qualities of this person. For who he is. Flaws and all. No more judgments.”
Amazingly, by shifting her attitude and stance, she altered the relationship. As she softened her approach with him, he backed off. She asked him more questions, then he reciprocated. Tensions eased, they began to work more collaboratively instead of competitively. They learned how to work together and produce solid work.
The other day, I was tested on my commitment to being loving. I was traveling on Southwest Airlines (which means, general boarding – no assigned seats). I put my backpack, hat, and jacket on my seat and then went to the restroom. I came back to find that another person had moved my things and taken my seat. My heckles went up immediately: “Excuse me, that’s my seat.”
The guy gave a surly remark, knocked my things to the floor and stormed off to sit in the next row. Ready to give him a piece of my mind, I paused. Instead, I took a deep breath, whispered ‘thank you’ and let it go. Later, I noticed this person glanced back at me remorsefully; it was a recognition of bad behavior. For me, that was redeeming enough. A minor forgiveness, for a very minor event, with memorable impact, ultimately.
This is our daily challenge – instead of reacting to negative behavior, we can be good to others, even when they are not good to us. To forgive others and forgive ourselves for our weaknesses. To act proactively to mend relationships, simply because we choose to care about people. This will not only germinate healthier, happier, and more productive work environments, but ultimately more effective organizations with more enduring success.