09 April 2012

Filling the reservoir of good will

In my previous blog, I introduced you to my mother-in-law, Margaret—a beautiful, spiritual and soon-to-be nonagenarian. She has long been a role model for me and so many other people whose lives she’s touched. Exceptionally reflective, Margaret lives by certain principles that shape her life and interactions with others. I try to follow her example by living by my own deeply held principles, including those that guide my professional life.

For example, my professional mission includes being an outspoken and ardent leader in creating and sustaining communities of civility and inspiring healthy workplaces and relationships. My goals are to raise awareness of the existence and consequences of incivility, to amplify the national dialogue on fostering civil work and learning environments, and to be an ambassador for lasting change. I also believe in the principle of filling the reservoir of goodwill as close to the brim as possible so that, when we need to draw from that reservoir, we have an abundant supply.

As a young undergraduate student, I was a very hard worker, attended all my classes and always turned my assignments in on time. I spoke up in class, added value to discussions and made an effort to get to know my professors. I did this because I loved learning, had made a substantial investment in my education and because I was the mother of a very young son who needed me to achieve so I could “be there” for him in every sense of the word. It was high stakes for me, and I knew that having an education would provide unimaginable opportunities.

During finals week and just before I was to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, my son became gravely ill. Diagnosed with a life-threatening condition that required extended hospitalization, his life hung in the balance. Freaking out on every level, I wondered how I would take my final exams—much less pass them. I had gambled everything on achieving my degree, and I was scared. All of this occurred before cell phones, e-mail and the other immediate ways students now have to contact professors.

So, in between the times that my husband and I sat vigil at my son’s bedside, I sought out my professors and tried to explain my situation to them. And guess what? They listened and, without exception, responded with understanding. Apparently, I had filled the reservoir of goodwill full enough that each and every one of my professors said that whatever grade I had achieved at the point of my son’s illness was the one I would receive as a final grade. All declared that I did not need to take the final exam, as I had proven myself to be an exceptional student. What a relief!

Today, I remember that experience with gratitude and appreciation, and I pay it forward. When my colleagues and students fill the reservoir of goodwill, I respond and give them the benefit of the doubt. That’s what it’s all about.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.