Fairfield County Edition

The Compassionate Achiever

How Helping Others Fuels Success

Acting with human decency—in every situation and interaction—is another way to connect to human capabilities hidden in plain sight. In news and TV stories about those who did something heroic, they usually say that they were just doing their job or they did what anyone else would have done in the same situation. None of them did it for recognition or to receive a plaque; they did it because it was the right thing to do. It was, in their minds, what any decent human being would do.

We have met two types of people who say, “I’m just doing my job”: those who use it as an excuse to do nothing to help others and those who use it to downplay credit for heroism. There is a third type of person who uses the phrase: an individual who ordinarily and routinely acts with kindness, civility, and respect in normal daily life. Albert Camus’s main character in The Plague, Bernard Rieux, illustrates the point that you don’t have to perform heroic acts like saving lives; you just have to “do your job” with common decency—meaning civility and respect.

Rieux reflects:

I know now that man is capable of great deeds. But if he isn’t capable of great emotion, well, he leaves me cold…However, there’s one thing I must tell you: there’s no question of heroism in all of this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is—common decency.

Rieux’s words point to the idea that basic common decency is all that is needed to overcome and even avoid problems in every aspect of society. It’s acting in ways that prioritize kindness, courtesy, and respect for each person you encounter. You befriend and never belittle. Common decency is about honoring and respecting the human dignity of every individual.

I call this way of everyday thinking and acting Rieux’s Routine. Following Rieux’s Routine is the middle way between the excuser and the unsung hero; it’s something that each of us can follow without ignoring (the excuser) or risking (the hero) anything. It’s about acting on our common belief in basic decency. Recent national surveys on civility show that 95 percent of us believe in common decency, but are concerned about its decline in our political, communal, and personal lives. At the beginning of 2016, 70 percent of Americans polled said that incivility in their country has reached “crisis levels, up from 65 percent in 2014.”

The “crisis” begins and ends within each one of us—meaning that if we each choose to act with civility, we can avert problems that eventually create crises.

From The Compassionate Achiever: How Helping Others Fuels Success by Christopher L. Kukk, PhD. Kukk is Professor of Political Science, Director of the Kathwari Honors Program and Director of the Center for Compassion, Creativity & Innovation at Western Connecticut State University (WestConn). He is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Institute of Holistic Health Studies at WestConn.

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