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!

Coloring Our Own View

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOn Wednesday, I attended the Good Samaritan Foundation’s Nursing Excellence Awards in Houston, an event which honors the profession’s “best and brightest.” Many UTMB nurses were honored this year with bronze medal recognitions, while high honors went to Jamie Heffernan, nurse manager of the Blocker Burn Unit, and Charles Machner, nurse manager of the Medical Intensive Care Unit, who brought home the gold and silver medals in the nursing administration category, respectively. Linda Rounds, the Betty Lee Evans Professor of Nursing at the UTMB School of Nursing, received the gold medal for faculty.

It was truly exciting to see our nurses recognized by the greater community and by their peers for the outstanding leadership they demonstrate and the invaluable work they do for our students, patients and families!

On the return drive to Galveston, I decided to make a quick stop at a drive-through to grab a soft drink. The employee who greeted me at the window was in such a great mood. He asked me how my day was, and I asked him the same. “You seem like you’re in a really good mood today!” I remarked. And his reply stayed with me—it was one of those encounters that seemed to provide just the message I needed at the time: “Why not just be positive?”

How true! This young man did his job with a great attitude, and that alone had a positive impact on my day. There is a quote, “There is very little difference in people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative” (W. Clement Stone). This young man not only took pride in his work, but he understood that how he treated others made a difference. Perhaps more importantly, he recognized that having a positive attitude was a choice.

I wondered how this might apply to our everyday interactions at UTMB. If everyone at UTMB always made an effort to be kind, encouraging and courteous, and show appreciation and respect to one another, our patients and their families—in all interactions—what kind of impact would that have? What difference might we make at UTMB if we collectively thought positively about the changes and tasks we must complete each day? Within our organization and across health care in general, there are many changes and new initiatives underway, and without a doubt it can sometimes feel overwhelming or challenging, but why not think and act with a positive attitude? If we have to do something, why not do our very best?

When we see an opportunity, we should try to remember that it will likely be accompanied by some sort of difficulty in the process; at the same time, we should also remember that in every difficulty lies an opportunity. If we keep this in mind, what kind of difference would that make? There’s almost nothing we start that doesn’t hit a roadblock or obstacle. But, if we persist and persevere, and find a way around the obstacles and flexibly redesign, often we can create great success, even if it’s not always the success first imagined. And, even if the very best things are not immediately possible, what if we immediately made the best of things that are possible?

Although there are times when we have little control over the events in life, we can control our reaction to those events. Situations may color our view of life, but only we have been given the power to choose what the color will be. For things that are within our control, the attitude we have can determine our personal and professional successes. Isn’t it true that people who believe they can’t do something are usually right—and so are those who believe they can? Football coaching great Lou Holtz speaks frequently concerning the correlation between ability and attitude. He believes, “Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

Attitude alone may not be all that success requires, but we’ll certainly do better with a positive attitude!