The Smallest Gestures of Kindness

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week, we explored the impact of demonstrating a positive attitude in everything we do. After I posted the message, I made a personal commitment to have a positive attitude in every interaction I had with others. Although this is something I always try to do, I was amazed at the results of this special effort—it seemed not only like this made my own day brighter, but my own attitude put a smile on the faces of others, too.

While thinking of the power of small gestures like this, I began exploring the topic for this week. In the process, I came across a great story that touches on how acts of kindness that we do for others can also make a difference beyond measure:

Two boys walked down a road that led through a field. The younger of the two noticed a man toiling in the fields of his farm, his good clothes stacked neatly off to the side.

The boy looked at his older friend and said, “Let’s hide his shoes so when he comes from the field, he won’t be able to find them. His expression will be priceless!” The boy laughed.

The older of the two boys thought for a moment and said, “The man looks poor. See his clothes? Let’s do this instead: Let’s hide a silver dollar in each shoe and then we’ll hide in these bushes and see how he reacts to that, instead.”

The younger companion agreed to the plan and they placed a silver dollar in each shoe and hid behind the bushes. It wasn’t long before the farmer came in from the field, tired and worn. He reached down and pulled on a shoe, immediately feeling the money under his foot.

With the coin now between his fingers, he looked around to see who could have put it in his shoe. But no one was there. He held the dollar in his hand and stared at it in disbelief. Confused, he slid his other foot into his other shoe and felt the second coin. This time, the man was overwhelmed when he removed the second silver dollar from his shoe.

Thinking he was alone, he dropped to his knees and offered a verbal prayer that the boys could easily hear from their hiding place. They heard the poor farmer cry tears of relief and gratitude. He spoke of his sick wife and his boys in need of food. He expressed gratitude for this unexpected bounty from unknown hands.

After a time, the boys came out from their hiding place and slowly started their long walk home. They felt good inside, warm, changed somehow knowing the good they had done for a poor farmer in dire straits.

Kindness and empathy often go hand-in-hand. This story made me think about how being mindful of the life events of others—patients, families, visitors and colleagues alike—is also important. Whether the person who walks through UTMB’s doors arrived for a routine checkup, a minor ailment, a serious illness, or to visit an ailing loved one, we should always do our best to make their experience the best it can be—they may be fighting a hard battle we know nothing about, and our kindness and expressions of care may make a difference to them.

A patient story I received a while ago—also a 2014 Silent Angel nomination—immediately came to mind. The story took place almost a year ago, but it is still a great reminder that we can help lift others’ spirits just as much as we are able to care for their physical health:

Denise Turner, RN had noticed one of her oncology patients was very depressed and wanted to do something to cheer her up. While the patient was in dialysis, Denise and one of the patient care technicians on the unit decorated her room with flowers, including a giant sunflower. The expression on the patient’s face when she returned to her room was unbelievable. She was extremely happy and smiled the rest of the day. Although the patient passed away just two days later, flowers and decorations still in her room, there is no doubt that the smile Denise put on the patient’s face and the joy Denise brought to her patient’s heart was one of the last beautiful memories she had.

One of the best parts of my day is hearing stories of how our health care teams made a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. Kindness and compassion are alive and well at UTMB, but we should never take these values for granted or underestimate the magnitude of the impact they carry.

Some time ago, one of our Correctional Managed Care employees at the Skyview Unit, Radiologic Technologist Hector Coria, sent a nice quote in response to one of my Friday Flash Report entries, and I have been saving it for just the right post: “Even the smallest of gestures have in them the power to connect us to each other, and that connection is what makes the unbearable bearable!”

Every kindness you do for others—no matter how small—enriches the world beyond measure. You do not have to pull off a world-changing achievement in order to make someone’s world sparkle. So go ahead, be a diamond!

When we do our best at everything, the future takes care of itself.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast week, UTMB President Dr. David Callender gave opening remarks at the organization’s Annual Professionalism Summit. The summit is an opportunity for the UTMB community to join together to renew its commitment to an environment that supports and measures professionalism and holds one another accountable to each other and those we serve. In his remarks, Dr. Callender underscored the fact that only through professionalism can we achieve our mission and vision, while emphasizing that our vision (what we strive to become) is not about being the biggest academic health center or being the best-known academic health center—it’s about being the best.

There is something about being the best that is important to keep in mind, however—it is an ongoing pursuit of excellence.

In the late seventeenth century, three rural families dominated the musical instrument industry. Working in shops located side by side in the Italian village of Cremona, these families produced the finest violins. The Amatic family hung a sign outside their shop that read, “The best violins in all of Italy.” Not wanting their creations to go unnoticed, the Guarneri family posted a sign that read, “The best violins in all the world!” The famous Anton Stradivari, known to produce the very finest stringed instruments, boasted his worldwide renown by hanging a sign on his front door that simply read, “The best violins on the block!”

Zig Ziglar, an American author, salesman and motivational speaker, once said, “The greatest enemy of excellence is good.” These three Italian families were proud of and prominently advertised their product. They also understood the aggressive competition among them would never allow “good” to be their best.

Whether we proclaim that our care or services are the best in the country or in the world, remember, there might be someone on the block who surpasses us.

Would our patients and families want us to settle for “good enough”? Would we? Will settling for good enough ever make UTMB the best? Will it make each of us, as individuals, the best at what we do? This is why we must always strive to achieve excellence. It’s important to remember that excellence in any endeavor is not automatic. As Dr. Stephen Covey says, “Real excellence does not come cheaply. A certain price must be paid in terms of practice, patience and persistence—natural ability notwithstanding.” Go a step beyond the customary or ordinary. Give just a little more than normal.

But perhaps the most important part of becoming excellent is to possess the desire and the motivation to become the best. The great author, Charles Dickens said, “Whatever I have tried to do in my life, I have tried with all my heart to do well. What I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself completely.”

However you define excellence, it is important to keep in mind that it is not a project, act, or job description; excellence is a way of life. It doesn’t mean we are asked to hang the moon. Rather, it’s the little things that make the big things possible. “Only close attention to the fine details of any operation makes the operation first class,” said the great entrepreneur, J. Willard Marriott.

When you feel a compelling, constant daily desire to do everything in your life as well as it can constantly be done, you will touch the borders of excellence. When people perform the common things in life in an uncommon way, the world will sit up and take notice. When we do our best at everything, the future takes care of itself.

I know that many of us are thinking about UTMB’s future – what is our plan? Why are we handling the many projects we have underway? What is my part? We will be discussing all of that in the coming year through many venues. However, as we are about to start the new fiscal year, I wanted to start out with a simple message – if each person at UTMB commits to excellence – to being the best they can possibly be and do the best job they possibly can for our patients, we will achieve our plans and, ultimately, we will be the best!