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The last few months have been challenging, to say the least. We’ve all adjusted to a new normal, and while I prefer to focus on the positives (like a shorter commute) that have emerged during these times, there are many changes that have been disturbing. It seems that too many no longer ascribe to the “Golden Rule” to treat everyone as you would like to be treated. I have noticed a marked rise in what I can only refer to as a lack of civility.   

What is civility? 
Civility comes from the word civis, which in Latin means citizen, or “relating to public life, befitting a citizen." Civility is defined today as “civilized conduct,” or a polite act or expression. In other words, being a good citizen entails being courteous and polite to all, be it a neighbor, coworker, or stranger passing you on the street. With so much going on in the world, people are understandably stressed. We are all dealing with things — serious stuff — we’ve never had to deal with before. In challenging times that’s when our true colors show. And I have noticed some people’s true selves are quite repulsive. This is particularly true in the United States during this election year. 




"As CEO of the world’s leading in-house counsel network, I am ever mindful of the tremendous reach and influence that comes with this role. It has made me especially reflective about the important impact that in-house counsel can have on our workplaces."

Being civil in the workplace is addressed in the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) publication, "Civility & Respect in the Workplace." They define civility as behavior that: “shows respect toward another and causes another to feel valued. [Civility] Contributes to mutual respect, effective communication, and team collaboration.” As leaders within our organizations, our colleagues look to us and model our behavior. What culture are we enforcing at work, what do we take home, and vice versa? How we show up in the world matters.  

It pays to be kind 
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Karma. What goes around comes around. Pay it forward. No matter the phrase, what you put out into the world, you get back. Why not put out kindness? That’s not to say that every day we feel kind or even have anything nice to say, especially during times like these. I get just as frustrated and even angry as anyone else. But I try my level best not to dwell in those feelings and try to avoid projecting them on others. 

Science has proven that kindness helps your mental state. Research shows that learning to be kind, and actively practicing kindness affects our attitude, outlook, and health. In fact, a article references a 2018 study that focused on employees at a company in Spain. The study found that when workers were asked to either perform an act of kindness for a coworker or count the number of kind acts for which they were on the receiving end, that those receiving the kinds acts become happier. However, those who delivered the kindness benefited more, showing not only increased happiness, but also higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of depression. 

There have been many studies on the effects of kindness. The example of the employees in Spain looked at how we can benefit at work, but we should carry these practices into our daily lives. 

Pay kindness forward
As we can all likely attest, when someone is kind to you, you tend to be kind to someone else — or pay it forward. Have you ever had someone ahead of you in line buy your coffee? What often happens is a kindness ripple effect where you feel inspired to pay for the coffee of the person standing in line behind you. 

While we can all point to tales of people lacking in human decency lately, I believe that these acts often grow out of a mob mentality of sorts. People feel emboldened to say and do things, no matter how offensive or potentially hurtful, when others around them are doing the same thing, especially when the most vocal seek to influence the crowd. These acts and images become all the more visible because of the prevalence of technology and social media. But you know what? We have the power to cut it off and stop. While some behaving badly may give others leave to act just as badly, being kind — acting with civility — does the same exact thing. Kindness is contagious. Perhaps we can strive to act and respond with more kindness and understanding. 

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Periodically, ACC President & CEO Veta T. Richardson interviews innovative leaders in the business community. If you or someone you know is doing something note-worthy in the legal world or beyond, if you have a story to tell, or if there's a topic you'd like to see Veta explore, we would love to hear from you!

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In the end … Make kindness the new contagion
The pandemic has forced us to slow down and to find new ways to reconnect with ourselves, our families, and our friends. It’s caused us to look at how, where, and when we work, but it’s also exposed some weaknesses in human nature. When it comes to social issues, we’ve seen people step up in innovative ways to address the concerns and issues that reflect their values. For every negative, there’s a positive, at least I like to believe so. How great it would be if kindness were to become the new contagion — one that we would all nurture and welcome to flourish. You can start now by taking just a few minutes to brighten another’s day through a small, random, unexpected act of kindness. 

Previously I wrote about how I practice self-care, including taking time for myself and writing regular entries in a gratitude journal. By focusing on what you’re thankful for, as well as taking time for yourself — whether via mediation, reading a book, gardening, taking a walk, or whatever brings you joy, you are in fact being kind to yourself. Which in turn allows you to be kind to others. I think we all need a little extra kindness today, don’t you? 

Related Content 
•    Kindness Can Help Your Business, ACC Docket 

•    The Power of Kindness. Why Being Kind Benefits Us All, 

•    How Sharing Kindness Can Make You Healthier and Happier, Mayo Clinic 

•    Why Being Kind Helps You Too - Especially Now, Wall Street Journal  

•    The Case for Civility at Work, SHRM 


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