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What Happened to Graciousness?

December 13, 2010

What Happened to Graciousness?

It could just be my imagination, but it seems to me that gracious words and actions are in steep decline. I see increasing pettiness and judgment-laden comments in the national dialogue in the United States and in how nations talk about friends and adversaries. This seems to have cascaded down to the state, local, and individual level as well. It also seems to be incredibly out of sorts with the spirit of the season and the value of being charitable toward others.

So what is happening to graciousness? Where has generosity of spirit gone? And what does this say about us?

In public forums and private conversations I see a lot more finger pointing, name calling, and insulting remarks. I wonder how those who hurl such invectives can believe they contribute to solving problems, building consensus, or facilitating cooperation and collaboration. Why can’t they assume that others with differing perspectives, beliefs and philosophies have good intentions, as they no doubt believe they do? There seems to be an ongoing search for nefarious ulterior motives or finding the worst in others. What is gained from all of this? What does it say about the person casting the stones? How can we turn it around?

The CEO of a company in which I once worked had a philosophy about dealing with customer issues. He believed that the focus should always be on resolving the issue rather than on who is right and who is wrong. We never hid behind “company policy” or bureaucratic explanations. He wanted to preserve and strengthen the relationship and rise above differences. We were accountable for this more than most other business metrics.

This approach has a magnanimous spirit. I believed in it and saw it work time and again. We were gracious when the customer expected or feared defensiveness. When customers made what we considered unreasonable demands, tried to exploit the relationship or agreement, or violated our trust, we raised our concerns in the spirit of partnership and clarifying expectations for both of us. Rather than fighting, we sought common ground and solutions that would enhance both a short and long term relationship.

This healthy and respectful approach has become a model for how I strive to conduct myself in personal and business relationships. However, I see far less of this generosity of spirit today than in the past. It may not be an endangered practice, but it is surely far less common. People are quick to accuse or threaten when most differences can be resolved amicably if approached in a constructive and intellectually honest manner.

One observation I have made is that when I behave graciously or in a spirit of partnership, it is usually reciprocated. However I have had a few experiences when it was not, both when I was the supplier and when I was the customer. When that occurs, I reassess my relationships. I want to work with people, organizations and businesses that share those values and believe in the importance of healthy relationships.

Imagine the good that can be created if we all work on being more gracious toward one another in all of our relationships, approach issues in a spirit of partnership and generosity, and work to rise about pettiness and harsh judgments. We can make our lives and the lives of others a much more pleasant experience. And get a lot more done at the same time.

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If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in 16 Steps for Creating Unity from Differences

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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