I have this list of aphorisms by my desk that I re-read regularly. The first one is:
Never do more than you have to because you desire or expect recognition or praise. For, more often than not, you will open yourself to increased criticism and risk. You do more than you have to because you have integrity.
A 2015 article in the NY Times, No Time to be Nice notes how incivility is increasing at the workplace and the pernicious effect it has been having. It highlights the long-term health consequences but also discussed the immediate impact. The authors describe how it hijacks workplace focus and produces demoralized employees; employees contribute less and lose their conviction. “Power can force compliance. But insensitivity or disrespect often sabotages support in crucial situations…..How we treat one another at work matters. Insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance and souls.”
So, those are the two baselines: integrity and civility/kindness. This includes really listening and paying attention and responding to concerns; it means doing the best that you can to act on every situation before you and it means giving the same level of concern and respect for every person you interact with.
A few years ago I got this letter from a former student. This is why we do what we do- food for the soul, so to speak:
“Some day you’ll be applying to grad school.”
I remember you saying this to me shortly after meeting you, and hearing my expression of my absolute contempt for school. It seemed dismissive, but for some reason I wasn’t offended, while jokingly dismissing me you were acknowledging my criticisms more than most “adults.” I knew you had my best interest in mind, and you had a glow about you, you seemed more sincere than most of the staff at MHS. You proceeded to really contort and perform backflips in order to get me out of that school in 4 years with a 2.0 GPA, if it were not for you I would not have graduated High School. This semester is ending, and now at the age of 26 I am becoming a Junior in college, with a plan to eventually continue to attend grad school and become a History professor. I couldn’t help but think of you this semester, and acknowledge all that you did for me. 11 years later I am writing you to let you know you were right, some day I will be applying to grad school…… but you knew that all along.