KINDNESS IN A CRUEL WORLD
BY MICHAEL F. STALEY
It is often said that firefighting is “the last of the noble professions.” I`m not certain that we are the last, I am certain that we are noble, and I know that our nobility comes from our kindness. We are firefighters because we care deeply for other people and are committed to making the human condition better. We save lives and property without regard to our own comfort or convenience. We are ready and willing to give 110 percent of our effort and to lay our very lives on the line to help other people; all of that is undeniably noble.
At the root of nobility is kindness, defined as a friendly, generous, or warmhearted nature. Any firefighter who can lay aside humility will tell you that friendly, generous, and warmhearted describes the men and women who are attracted to our profession.
WHEN KINDNESS FALTERS
One would hope that nobility could sustain us throughout a career, but sometimes something happens along the way. Too many years, too many tears, too many pointless calls, unyielding management, and cumulative fatigue can erode firefighters` spirit. Kindness may begin to falter in direct proportion to the joyful countdown to early retirement. It would be easy to think that those who suffer our lack of kindness are our customers but, in fact, the ones who suffer are ourselves. We need kindness! Without it, we lose our purpose and reward.
TAKING THE TIME TO CARE FOR
A WIFE AND DAUGHTER
I will never forget the call that sealed my commitment to kindness. My partner and I responded to a “man not breathing” call and arrived to find our patient “deader than dammit.” There was nothing we could do–the call was now a police investigation. All my partner and I had to do was return to the station to fill out a quick report and have lunch.
But it was difficult to walk away. The man`s elderly wife and his daughter were still in the house, grieving and without a clue as to what to do. Theoretically, they were not our patients, but they were greatly troubled. It was trouble we could ease, and my partner and I decided to take a few minutes to better the situation. We offered sympathy and comfort and gently explained what was going to happen next, making suggestions that could make it easier. We asked if we could call relatives or notify their clergy. We made the calls. Before we left, the wife and daughter were in the loving hands of their family and their pastor. It took only a few minutes. My partner and I did not speak of it, but both of us felt good. We knew we had done the right thing. We had cared. But more than that, we had acted on our caring and helped the old man`s family with difficult circumstances. Our afternoon went better because we were satisfied that we had given 110 percent when it would have been easier just to walk away.
The story did not end here. The daughter`s husband was a police officer from a neighboring county. When she arrived home, she asked him if he would have done the same. He replied, ” No, it wouldn`t have been my job. But it was nice that the firefighters were so caring, even when there was really nothing to do.” The daughter wrote about it in a letter to the editor of our local newspaper. I still have the yellowed clipping–one of the nicest thank-you notes I ever received.
THE TOP TEN REWARDS OF KINDNESS
But you and I know that thank-you notes are few and far between. It is up to us to find personal rewards for being kind. Fortunately, this is not difficult. A simple act of kindness will give you the satisfaction that you have done the right thing, but the rewards are more far-reaching than that:
1. You`ll sleep better.
2. Food will taste better.
3. You`ll smile more in spite of yourself.
4. Your body will not ache as much or feel as tired.
5. You`ll be more productive.
6. You`ll feel pride.
7. Your family and fellow firefighters will be easier to get along with.
8. You`ll look forward to coming to work.
9. Your reputation as a “good guy” will be enhanced.
10. You will notice a ripple effect: Kindness begets kindness. All that you do for yourself will wash off on the other people.
Does the satisfaction of kindness produce endorphins? Does it have spiritual implications beyond our simple human understanding? I don`t know. But what I do know is that kindness has tangible, measurable rewards that are yours for the taking.
ALARM: THE RETURN TO KINDNESS
So how do you return to kindness when your spirit is eroded and you`re too burned out to give any more? It`s easy. Next time you`re on a call, answer the ALARM.
Assess the customer`s situation. This is a person you`re dealing with, a fellow human being with all the same hopes and fears you have. Kindness here means you`re the same “kind.” Only your situations are different. Because of this, you need to recognize your shared humanity and yet make an effort to identify and appreciate the differences.
Listen to the customer. It makes no difference whether the communication is verbal or not. Listen with your whole soul to understand what the customer`s message is to you.
Act as if you care. It doesn`t matter if you feel kindness at first. What is important is that you put on all the trappings. Fake it `til you make it. Put a smile on your face and a gentle tone in your voice. When your customer responds to your manner, you will receive the extrinsic rewards of kindness. Your heart will remember what your spirit has forgotten, and you will eventually return.
Reach out. Open yourself just a little to your customer. Take an extra moment to make contact. Look directly into the person`s eyes. Take him by the hand. Explain things a little more thoroughly.
Make the human connection. You`re both people who share this moment together. Treat this individual the way you would want to be treated, with nobility and kindness.
THE ULTIMATE ACT: CLOAKING YOURSELF
Psychologists report that mood and emotions can be changed by actions. You can actually change your attitude by managing your physical body. I`ll prove it to you in 10 seconds. Try it yourself.
Right now, sit up as straight as you can. Take a rapid, deep breath (like a sigh). Rub your hands together quickly. Blink and then open your eyes wide. Shrug your shoulders once to release tension. Smile. Smile broadly. Grin. Try to tell me that you don`t feel better than you did 10 seconds ago!
No matter what was going on before you did the 10-second exercise, now you`re wearing the mantle of energy, focus, and joy. Your psyche recognizes it and starts to move you toward that state of being. The same is true of kindness. You are able to cloak yourself in a gentle, generous, and caring demeanor. No matter how you feel when you begin that cloaking exercise, within a few seconds your behavior begins to affect your state of being. No matter how jaded and tired you really might be, some part of you recognizes and remembers how good it feels to do the right thing. People around you cannot tell the difference and will respond to you, and you actually become kind.
THE FINAL (KIND) WORD
I once had a rookie EMT turn away from an intoxicated patient who had fallen once more over a curb and ask me why it was not enough just to bandage our patient`s arm– why it was necessary to be nice. I answered, “You could just bandage his arm. But you`ll miss out on the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing. You`ll miss out on the `warm fuzzies` you get from caring. I promise you won`t hear `Thank you.` Because of that, you won`t be reminded of why you became a firefighter. Every time you deprive yourself of that reminder, you`ll be a little less certain you`re in the right profession.”
I know we`re in the right profession: firefighting–“the last of the noble professions,” and certainly one of the kindest.
MICHAEL F. STALEY, a former firefighter and EMT, is a motivational speaker and heads Port Orange, Florida-based Golden Hour Motivational Resources, through which he also provides consulting and speaking services. He can be reached at (800) 622-6453, fax (904) 788-5648, or e-mail at http://www.MIKESTALEY.com.