Be Decent … It’s Contagious

JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

12 March 2020

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love … Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate [others], but to win friendship and understanding. – Martin Luther King, Jr.


Day in and day out, we face challenges of all types. We may receive a scathing email from a client or hold the door for someone who doesn’t say thank you. Challenges are bound to happen. Especially when we are dealing with other people facing their own issues. But challenges are also bound to be overcome.  

Of course, your first thought may be to scream or yell, but I’ll let you in on a secret. Our first thought doesn’t have to be our last thought. Or our only thought.

Perhaps that scathing email has a story behind it. Mr. Client might have a day full of his own challenges. If we write back in an angry or accusatory way, as our first thought might suggest, it’ll only fuel his fire more. Hate begets hate. Perhaps if we show compassion and understanding, he may feel heard and respected. It may be the bone he needs to turn his day around. It also may not change anything for him, but I bet you feel better after experiencing your own compassion as opposed to your anger.

Maybe the stranger you are holding the door for is deeply in thought about a few of her own challenges. Your first reaction may to scream “You’re welcome!” But does humiliating her guarantee her manners will be in the forefront of her mind next time? Perhaps we should let it go. Take a deep breath and smile. Did you hold that door for the thank you? Or because you wanted to brighten their day? Did screaming “You’re welcome!” accomplish your goals? Or did it get you fired up? A nasty attitude does not beget politeness.

When we face challenges of any magnitude, we need to remember who we are. We need to remember that feeling the first emotion that comes up is important, but it doesn’t mean we have to react with it. We should always aim to put out in the world, what we’d like to have returned to us. You might have learned about the golden rule in pre-school – Do unto others and you as you would have them do unto you. If you strive for decency, be decent. If you strive for compassion, be compassionate. After all, our attitudes and emotions can be contagious.