What Moves Us To Act?

Originally posted June 23, 2015

By Susan Brown

I usually start my day with a Starbucks, so I was standing in the long line-up waiting to place my order. I noticed a young resident, well ahead of me in the line, pull out of the line. He grabbed a fistful of serviettes from the sidebar where the milk and sugar, lids and serviettes are found. He walked over to a middle-aged woman who was on her cell–she was sobbing inconsolably and her face was red and puffy, she had big sad tears strolling down her face. This young resident walked over and bent down as if to kneel. He put the serviettes into her lap and paused his hand on hers when she went to grab the serviettes. He looked into her eyes, paused and provided a look of acknowledgement, empathy and kindness. Then he walked back to the end of the coffee line … Many of us had witnessed this spontaneous act of genuine compassion and kindness and made way for him to move to the front of the line.

What moved this young resident to act? Or perhaps more importantly, what was it about him that saw his distraught woman and respond in such a caring and compassionate way? It was beautiful to see the tension in her face ease when he gave her the serviettes and demonstrated empathy. It was beautiful to see how other staff members in the Starbucks line watched the interaction and then volleyed him back up to the front of the line on his return. And it was beautiful to see how moved each of us was by this simple act of grace. The importance of staff-to-patient and staff-to-staff relationships were underscored. I’d like to think each of us here would do this if the same situation presented … I suppose the question is whether each of us sees these things when they are in our midst; does our culture empower us to act? Are we safe to reach out to one another and to our patients?

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