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Let’s Reclaim “Great”

With all of the disturbing things going on in our world, you might be thinking: If my Big Vision doesn’t directly affect racial justice, human rights, climate change, education, immigration, voting rights, poverty, or another pressing issue, is it worth doing?

The answer is yes, because how you do your work in the world can also make a difference.

One of our culture’s many challenges right now is that being selfish, disrespectful, dishonest, merciless, and hateful are being portrayed as characteristics of a “great” person. We need to take action to change policies and elect better leaders, and we also need to reclaim what it means to be “great.” Some of the qualities I think make up a “great” person include:

Appreciation &

One of the ways we can facilitate positive change in our world is by bringing these qualities into how we do our work.

While watching RBG over the weekend, I was struck by how Justice Ginsberg worked with people she didn’t agree with ideologically. For example, she had a close friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia even though they held opposing views. And in her New York Times piece, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living,” she talked about the importance of collegiality in order for justices to do their jobs well.

You don’t need a high profile position to be “great” at work.

Because I had a kidney stone that required surgical removal a few years ago, I get an annual ultrasound to make sure no new stones have formed. The radiology department is in the basement of the hospital, so it has a shadowy and forgotten feel to it—until you interact with the extremely pleasant and kind people who work there.

When I went in a couple weeks ago, I noticed a large drawing of a tree hanging on the wall that said “Gratitude Tree” across the bottom. Apple-shaped Post-Its hung from the branches. The people who work in the department had written things they were grateful for on each apple like:

“I’m grateful for and like each and every one of my co-workers.”

“So thankful for my team! I (heart symbol) you all!”

“I am grateful for the close bond I have with my sono sisters and sono bros.”

As the sonographer began my scan, I asked her why she thought this department was different than some of the others I’d visited. Why did everyone seem so happy?

She told me it was because the man who supervised them was a wonderful person. He made everyone who worked there feel supported and part of a team. Even though she is a traveling sonographer who usually moves from facility to facility, she had stayed there for two years because of her co-workers.

It’s fantastic that more people are becoming engaged citizens and that activists are being elevated to celebrity status, but it’s also important to know that you don’t have to take dramatic, social media worthy action to make a difference during these challenging times.

For example, last month I bought a bunch of bread pans at my local grocery store. As the sales clerk scanned the pans’ bar codes, she asked, “Are you making a lot of bread?” I explained that I was making mini casseroles for a friend who’d recently had a baby.

“I just made a lot of banana bread,” she said, “I have a great recipe that works for everything — fruits and vegetables.” I told her that I loved banana bread, but couldn’t find a recipe that didn’t turn out sticky in the middle.

“Next time you’re in here, come see me. I’ll give you the recipe,” she smiled.

When I saw her in the checkout line a week or so later, she handed me an envelope with a card inside. She’d written out the recipe by hand for me and kept it nearby so that she would remember to give it to me ( :

Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world. How we are at work is as important as what we do. Being Generous, Respectful, Empathetic, Appreciative, and Trustworthy during the many hours we’re working can also make a difference.


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