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April 18, 2019 Practice Points

Turning Compassion Into Action

Setting aside time to help better the world around you will help you, your team, and your practice thrive.

By Dr. Crystal J. Davis

The phrase “lead by example” is nowhere more deeply ingrained than in those who practice servant-leadership. Servant-leaders understand the value of care and concern for others. When running or working in a busy legal practice, it can be easy to let weeks or months slip by without taking the time to help a neighbor or your community. But setting aside time to help better the world around you will help you, your team, and your practice thrive. Here are a few ideas to turn your compassion into action:

  1. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Even the most affluent and respected amongst us suffer from dissatisfaction with their situation or position on occasion. Recognizing the areas in which you are privileged or have an advantage over others is a crucial first step to giving back. A 2014 Forbes article summarized the many benefits practicing gratitude can have, including increasing empathy and reducing aggression. “A 2012 study by the University of Kentucky [showed that] participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.”
  2. Help people help themselves. The Dalai Lama emphasized that the root causes of people’s difficulties have to change. People have been told, especially the poor, that they can’t do much for themselves. And when they begin to believe in this propaganda, it becomes true to them. Give your time to organizations that help people by providing education or training. Speak to a community center group about what to look for in leases or contracts. If you’re tech-savvy, offer your skills to a computer skills course. Helping others develop a sense of self-worth and self-confidence can be incredibly rewarding.
  3. Pick your passion. There is never going to be a dearth of volunteer opportunities. It can be overwhelming deciding which opportunities to pursue and, particularly for those with strong empathetic tendencies, it can feel like you’re letting down one group of people by helping another. However, finding those few causes about which you are particularly passionate and devoting your time and energy there will have a larger impact than you may realize. Rather than feeling stretched thin and overcommitted, you will look forward to those volunteer opportunities and provide a zeal and enthusiasm which might otherwise be missing. A few fully invested volunteers will do far more for a cause than a hundred people who are just there for the photo op.
  4. Make it a family (or friendly) affair. Compassionate acts are contagious. Thomas Jefferson coined it as ‘moral elevation,’ the sort of inspiration we feel to help when we witness random acts of kindness. If you’re in a position of influence at your office, encourage your staff to give back—maybe even consider shutting down the office for half a day to volunteer as a group. Volunteer with friends to make the experience more fun (and to ensure you actually get to see your friends every once in a while!). Set an example for your coworkers, family, and friends by making volunteerism a priority and you’ll see the benefit of improved relationships in those groups.

Whatever your passion, however limited your time may be, find ways to give back to your community. Small actions have a big ripple effect. With volunteerism, those ripples will of course impact the populations you help, but you’ll be surprised to find how much your own life will be improved.

Dr. Crystal J. Davis is a servant-leadership consultant based in Junction City, Kansas. 

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).