Planting seeds of kindness

Cynthia Clark |

Preparing THIS flower patch was a chore I wanted to do myself.

Cynthia ClarkIt’s a stunningly gorgeous morning in the high desert of Boise, Idaho, USA. I just returned from an early morning hike with three of our energetic and high-spirited rescue dogs. They run with abandon and enthusiasm to greet the morning, leaping with the utter joy of being alive! I share their exuberance as I listen to the meadowlarks fill the morning air with their catchy and melodious song. When we arrive at the top of the knoll where we turn to go home, we pause for many moments to take in the panoramic view of mountain ranges that encircle our home. None of the mountains bears even a remnant of the snows that fell and blanketed them earlier this spring. Instead, they stand bare and tall against the blue sky, beckoning elk and other wild critters that inhabit the region, as well as hikers.

When we return from our hike, I attend to the usual morning chores before starting a day of writing, tending the garden, looking after pets, and watering flowers. There’s a particular little flower patch that I planted shortly after last month’s commencement. I dug the patch myself. I could’ve asked my husband to assist me, but digging the small plot was a chore I relished and wanted to do. So one day, I tilled the soil, enriched it with nutrients, and lovingly planted seeds given to me by one of my nursing students. The package of seeds was tucked inside a lovely card in which she thanked me for inspiring her. It included this entry: “Dear Dr. Clark, plant these seeds and watch them bloom, as so many students have bloomed under your guidance.”
The view from our front yard.I was deeply touched by the sentiment. Today, as seedlings poke through the earth and reach for the sky, I am humbled by the influence we have on the lives of our students. As faculty members, we are and always will be one of their most formidable and influential role models. Therefore, we must always be cognizant of the way we speak and act. The importance of modeling the way cannot be overestimated. Students are watching our every move. It’s a daunting thought, as well as a wonderful opportunity.

As nurse educators around the globe, we have an important responsibility to prepare and mobilize our nations’ nursing workforces. This is no easy task, and we must not take our students’ professional role development lightly. One of the most important nursing roles is that of a “civilist.”
What is a civilist, you may ask? Contending that being civil takes self-discipline, practice, and commitment, Kenneth Maxey (2011) coined the term civilist (p. 10) to describe the attributes and habits of a civil person. I couldn’t agree more! It is incumbent upon nurse educators and academic nurse leaders to intentionally grow the next generation of civilists—nurses well-prepared to create positive change and promote a safe, healthy workplace.
Picture of planting seedsWhile it is important to establish civility as an organizing value in any organization, it is equally important for each individual to self-reflect and take an accurate inventory of one’s own behavior. Each of us needs to evaluate our interactions and display behaviors that support the dignity of others. It is tempting to return incivility for incivility, to respond in a ‘tit for tat’ manner. Instead, we must be prepared and practiced in the art of addressing uncivil behavior. For example, a demeaning comment or sarcastic remark could be responded to in this way: “I learn best from individuals who address me with respect and value me as a member of the team. Is there a way we can structure this type of interaction?”

I realize that creating a totally civil society is a utopian ideal. Yet, devoting time and attention to being a civilist can make a significant difference. Crafting a personal civility credo, along with developing—and living out—a list of life principles and daily habits, is a good starting point. For instance, my personal civility credo is “to lead the coalition for change by raising awareness, amplifying the civility conversation, and inspiring civil action.” Some of my life principles include living with purpose and meaning, leading an examined life, assuming goodwill, and nurturing my body, mind, and spirit. These life principles are made operational by practicing daily habits, such as smiling and greeting others by name, expressing and living in gratitude, and striving to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
I encourage you to take the time to consider principles and daily habits that shape your life. Writing a personal life statement provides clarity and insight, and helps strengthen your commitment. Putting pen to paper or keyboarding your ideas into a thoughtfully composed statement helps solidify your plan. Share the plan with a family member, friend, or trusted colleague, if you wish. When we share ourselves with others, it strengthens our commitment and resolve.
So, go forth, plant seeds of civility and kindness, and watch them bloom! RNL
Maxey, K. (2011). Civil business: Civil practice in corporations and society. Denver, CO: Colorado Writing Services.

Cynthia “Cindy” Clark, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, nurse consultant for ATI Nursing Education, founder of Civility Matters, and author of Creating and Sustaining Civility in Nursing Education, Second Edition, is a psychiatric nurse/therapist and an expert in fostering civility and healthy workplaces.

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