Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

Thoughts and ideas on healthcare

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more. Subscribe below to get email notices so you won't miss any great content.

Can We Start an Epidemic of Kindness in Healthcare?

April 18, 2014

Kindess in HealthcareViolence, anger, sarcasm, personal attacks, public acts of ridicule, and hate have been portrayed by the news media and entertainment industry in ways that have rendered us insensitive to the outcome.

And, the increase in hate crimes, random mass shootings or intentional ones, domestic violence, and school stabbings is not just frightening.  It is epidemic in the full sense of the word.

So, I suggest that we actively reverse the course of this “disease” — that we start by neutralizing verbal violence with kindness, slow down our own responses to allow compassion, and, ultimately, disarm rather than arm ourselves.  We should go on the love offensive and take on the Martial Arts of Kindness, Patience, and Compassion.

Our healthcare system today treats not only wounds of disease, but also injuries of violence, and the victims of shootings and automobile accidents.  Dignity Health has integrated kindness and compassion as part of the treatment plan for every patient. Perhaps hospital leaders realized that wounds of violence require a spiritual antibiotic.

According to Dr. Gary Slutkin, violence is contagious, transmitted by observation and, first and secondary experiences that increase our chances of “catching it.” Anger begets anger, and sarcasm generates a like response.  The dictum of “tit for tat” and “an eye for an eye” lives on our street corners, at our traffic lights, in our schools, and in our hospitals.

Imitation is in our DNA. It is how we learn and how we figure out what kind of behavior is appropriate. Imitation is also how we may, inadvertently, catch a cold of sarcasm or insensitivity, or a slew of insults and impatience.

In the poorest of the poorest countries, kindness is often the most compelling kind of currency. It is what is often exchanged for goods and services, safety and security, and community wholeness.

The value of kindness in healthcare is hardly based on some mythical monetary system; rather it  increases in value as it is passed from one person to another, as it spreads.

According to the Wakefield Study reported by Dignity Health,  87% of U.S. hospitals have determined that kindness is on the top of the list of what matters to patients and families.  It is especially valued when medicine has run out of its magic or when pain and suffering are the rule of the day.  Kindness goes so very far in mending wounds of the spirit.

As we are in the middle of Passover and approaching Easter, it is a good time to reconsider our own tolerance of the unkindness (and its extremes) and our own modeling of kindness and consideration.

Here’s a thought: Let’s generate an epidemic of kindness in healthcare, and everywhere — one that requires neither vaccines or bandages, paperwork or an act of Congress.  When a tense opportunity confronts us, let’s extend kindness as the antidote for fear, a way to move a negative to a positive.

Then spring will be sweeter and maybe our news flashes will stop being about hate crimes and mass shootings.  And, it starts with those closest to us.

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