Is there 1 Most Important Quality?

Recently I was having dinner with two very dear and special friends at my favorite Dallas neighborhood bistro, Parigi. As always, we launched into an open, authentic and passionate conversation. This time it was about how strong personal and business relationships thrive and survive, in an increasingly turbulent, competitive and stressful world. This couple has been in a loving and supportive relationship for many years, and have adopted two precious children. They were admiring how some couples stay committed and in love for a lifetime. My parents, for example, were childhood sweethearts and have been married (and in love) for over 58 years. What can we learn from these examples? Is there 1 quality that makes the difference?

From this discussion, I came to a reaffirming realization, one my parents have taught me my entire life through their actions yet is often forgotten, dismissed or even rationalized when dealing with friends, family, clients, and co-workers. Yes, there are many qualities which support and nurture healthy marriages, and personal and business relationships – love, respect, encouragement, support, good listening skills, to name a few. Yet, one of the most central qualities is to simply be kind to one another.

Being kind. What does this really mean?

Webster’s describes this as “being of a good or benevolent nature or disposition. Having or showing benevolence, consideration, patient, and helpful behavior”. Often, we are guilty of only showing kindness when others agree with us, are like us, or do as we want them to do. Whether this is with our co-workers, our bosses, our customers, or our spouses and friends, being kind is not conditional. Being kind – by definition – is being benevolent regardless of how it is received and with no expectation of reciprocity.

Thus, I offer that though kindness is most certainly a foundational quality for any relationship, the cornerstone of that foundation is tolerance. Over the past several years, I have heard many clients and friends voice a lack of tolerance for those that don’t behave as they think they should. They have impatience when others are not a quick as they are or as sharp as they think they need to be. They pass unwavering judgment on certain behaviors despite their fellow friends/co-workers apologies and efforts to make it right. This lack of tolerance is not kind, by any measure. Tolerance offers and encourages fair and objective attitudes toward those whose opinions, practices and behaviors may differ from our own.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that we not hold our fellow co-workers to a standard of excellence in their work – far from this. What I am suggesting that we meet people where they are; we realize and embrace that we are all living and learning in the human condition in what I love to call “Earth School.” We all have much to learn and much to teach. The most fertile ground for fruitful exchanges and growth to happen is in an environment anchored in kindness and tolerance.

This is relevant in every aspect of our lives. If we are teachers and educators, it applies to students, parents, fellow teachers, and board members. If we are corporate executives, it applies to our peers, team members, clients, customers, and board members. And, if we are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, and friends, it applies to every single human being in which we interact and every relationship in which we are involved. What could happen if we all extended just a little more kindness and tolerance to those in our lives? What would happen if we forgave those with whom we had an unintentional transgression?

What do you think? When have you been met with a lack of tolerance and unforgiving spirit – personally or professionally? How have you felt? When have you been met with a dose of sincere kindness? What emotion does this create within you? Please weigh in…our world needs awareness…which is most effectively fostered and shared by you.