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Small acts of kindness matter

Dr. Cheryl Holmes's story on Respect
Dr. Cheryl Holmes
Associate Dean Undergraduate Medical Education Clinical Professor and Head Division of Critical Care, Department of Medicine Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia

This morning, I was prompted to reflect on a time when someone showed me kindness. My first thought was a hallway conversation I had with a colleague after being criticized by a coworker and was feeling offended (and a bit defensive) about it.  I can’t remember her exact words, but I do remember her listening intently and giving me perspective that I had not thought of; that often these reactions arise out of a lack of compassion for ourselves.  She related to me times when she was not compassionate with herself and how it affected her interactions.  She recommended the book, “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff.  In her book, Kristin relates her empirical studies on self-compassion and contrasts it with self-esteem which often requires perfectionism and a need to defend oneself.  It is interesting, and now a bit obvious, that practicing self-compassion allows me to be kinder in my interactions.

“The things that interrupt my work, ARE my work.”

Remembering to be kind is the trick. I am learning to use feelings of frustration as a sign of being overwhelmed and a cue to take care of the caregiver in me, signaling time out for a self-compassion break.  If I forget how to do this, Kristin’s guided self-compassion meditations are good reminders that I am human and need to be kind to myself.

Typically, being in a hurry is a barrier for me to be kind.  A wise person once told me, “The things that interrupt my work, ARE my work”.  For a highly organized person like me, success can mean ticking things off my daily “to do” list.  Another consult, another resuscitation, another admission, another dictation, another order set, another central line – done.  Interruptions are annoying.  I have learned to note interruptions as signals to take a self-compassion break and express deep listening and kindness to the other person.  It is amazing how these interactions lead to a much more satisfying day than just ticking off the tasks on my to do list.

Thank you, Dr. CW, your kindness in asking me how I was doing had a profound effect on me and has influenced my growth as a person, as a physician, and as a leader. Thank you, Dr. IS, for showing me the power of interruptions to slow down and change my perspective.  I am grateful to all of you, my team, my colleagues, and students who continue to demonstrate patience, compassion, and kindness.  Together we can change the culture of academic medicine.

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