Friday, April 30, 2010

Not My Problem

I am reading a fabulous book called "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner. I highly recommend it to anyone who will listen. I was particularly struck by this comment he wrote after visiting a very unhappy country: "'Not my problem' is not a philosophy. It's a mental illness. Right up there with pessimism. Other people's problems are our problems." He theorizes that a lack of empathy towards others leads to a lack of happiness.
I have seen this attitude at work in many people. Passing the buck or refusing to accept responsibility for one's actions leads a person to act as if they have no responsibility. If they've harmed another, they are exempt from feeling bad. If they've made a costly mistake at work, it doesn't affect their bottom line. This fosters a lack of connection with other people, an isolation. How can we trust anyone if we know, deep down, that we ourselves cannot be trusted?
It can be very challenging to admit we've made a mistake. I hate having to say I was wrong, but I've gotten better at it over the years. A simple I'm sorry can repair a whole lot of damage, in our personal or professional interactions. I read a study once that said doctors who made errors but apologized were significantly less likely to be sued. Of course, our goal is to never make mistakes, but to err is human after all.
Saying I'm sorry is another way to say I care. I care enough to recognize my effect on another person. Or I understand and feel the pain of another, the true definition of empathy. What greater connection can there be between people? I have been saddened by the "not my problem" attitude I've witnessed this week, but I was also heartened by the kindness offered from a truly caring person at work. I am hopeful that we can all learn from examples of love and kindness offered by others. Opening your heart is scary, and can be very vulnerable. But the rewards we receive are boundless.

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