The month of August, named after the Roman emperor Augustus, is a time of completion—a time for us to tie up loose ends, repair brittle relationships and envision a clearer future. The word august describes something or someone who is honorable, noble or esteemed. Keeping with the eighth month’s theme of being honorable and noble is a communion with Step 8 in Twelve Step programs—both encourage us to make a list of those we have harmed (including ourselves) and become willing to make amends to them all: the time you jumped down a coworker’s throat for dragging his feet, the evening you worked late and missed your son’s piano recital or the day you scolded your spouse who wanted to spend time with you for interrupting your train of thought. And don’t forget all those times you belittled yourself for forgetting, making a mistake or missing a deadline.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the old rules of who is allowed to cry went out of vogue. We have seen a different face among government and business leaders—especially men—such as Governor Andrew Cumo of New York, Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and newscasters on CNN tearing up when reporting the staggering death toll from the Coronavirus and subsequent death toll of thousands of Americans. Compared to the brute callousness of public leaders in the mid-1900’s, when emotional men lost political standing, pandemic empathy has been viewed as a character strength, not a weakness. Empathy, vulnerability and emotional connectedness from national leaders have become more acceptable, helpful and commonplace. And so has taking ownership for our wrongdoings without self-judgment.
Most of us don’t intentionally hurt others, but often in our quest for success and coping with pandemic stressors, home schooling and just plain keeping our heads above water, it’s easy to become insensitive to others. Too many of us lose our cool if a team member isn’t pulling his weight, the kids are not staying on task with their remote learning or our manager ignores our hard-earned efforts on a project. Even Pope Francis lost his cool on the eve of 2020 as he greeted people on the way to the Vatican Nativity scene, angrily slapping the hand of an overly zealous congregant who yanked his arm and refused to let go. He later apologized during his New Year’s Day homily, “So many times we lose our patience. Me, too,” he said. “And I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.” The Pope set a great example of integrity and how to make amends to the people we have harmed. His actions were honorable, noble and esteemed, and they are not limited to the month of August.
Make A List Of Those You’ve Harmed
It’s easy to get caught up in our careers and ignore or zip past the people we care about most, reject someone who fails to meet our standards or belittle people who don’t conduct business in the exact same way we do. What loose ends do you need to tie up? What repair work in your career and personal life is unfinished? If you made a list of those you have harmed (with curiosity instead of self-judgment), who would be on your list? A family member, best friend, neighbor or colleague? Or all the above?
Work integrity is a tall order, requiring us to take ownership for our actions without judging ourselves. We’re all fallible human beings. A piece of you resides in every person who drives you up the wall, gets in your way, or disturbs your concentration—the team member who talks over you in a meeting, the office mate on a loud cell phone conversation, the person who takes the last cup of coffee without replenishing the pot. Most people we harm have their own personal struggles that we will never know about, flawed human beings, doing the best they can, deeply loved by their parents, a spouse, a child or friend. Besides, how many times have you accidentally talked over someone in a meeting? Scowled at another commuter who cuts you off in traffic? Talked too loudly and disturbed someone’s concentration? Or bumped into someone accidentally. I’ve done all the above, and you know you have, too—we all have.
In these extraordinary times, a little empathy and forgiveness go a long way toward collective selflessness. Learning to forgive others for their human fallibility makes our work culture and the country as a whole bond together and function more smoothly. And when you forget, make a mistake or fail—which you surely will—learn to forgive yourself. You, too, will have a much happier and more fulfilling career and thrive in almost anything you do.