Earlier this fall, an assisted living home in California was shut down by its owners leaving many of its elderly residents with nowhere to go. The staff members left when they learned they weren’t being paid, except for the cook, Maurice Rowland, and the janitor, Miguel Alvarez. Rowland and Alvarez decided on their own to stay and care for the residents, some of whom had dementia. They made a personal sacrifice to take care of their fellow humans until the sheriff and fire department took over several days later. Rowland and Alvarez both showed extraordinary compassion and empathy for the residents.
When I heard the story on NPR, I felt like I was punched in my gut. I wonder what I would have done in a similar situation. Would I have stayed and cared for the residents or would I have assumed someone else would be there to take care of them and gone on my way? I can’t answer that question. I like to think I would have stayed, but I’ve never faced such a test, so I really don’t know.
(There’s an additional article with more information about this story on SFGate.)
It’s a Test
I think all of us are tested on a daily basis. When one of our end users comes to us with a problem, do we find a way to help or do we say, “That’s not my problem.” or “That’s not my department.” and go on about our business.
Sometimes, the test is a little thing such as noticing an empty coffee pot and making a fresh pot for our colleagues. Sometimes, the test is really big as in the case of Rowland and Alvarez.
Compassion and Empathy
What about when we’re working on a migration from, say Windows XP to Windows 8.1? Do we simply take care of the technical aspects of the migration and let our users fend for themselves to learn the new operating system? Alternatively, do we research the common problems users have in such a migration so we can anticipate their challenges and prepare training or tip sheets to help them work with the new operating system? Like Alvarez and Rowland, do we have compassion and empathy for our colleagues and find ways to help, find ways to help improve the experience of our co-workers, our fellow humans?
What if it Happened to Us or a Family Member?
When we’re dealing with a frustrated or angry customer or end user, can we find a way to imagine what they’re going through? What would we want if the tables were turned? What would we want if that customer or end user was someone with whom we had a personal relationship, someone for whom we deeply cared? What would we say? What would we do? Would we act differently?
What about the late afternoon call from a customer or end user who’s struggling with a technical problem? Would we find a way to help or would we put it off until the next morning so we could get out of the office?
It’s Not Just Technical Skills
The great IT people are those who not only have outstanding technical skills, but also have a sense of compassion and empathy for all people, they care about the well being of their brothers and sisters, not just in the workplace, but in every walk of life.
Look, we’re all human and subject to human frailty. None of us is perfect all the time, but each of us is given many opportunities, both small and large, to show what we’re made of. I hope, on balance, that I’ve been more kind, compassionate, and empathetic than not. I hope I’ve passed the test more often than I’ve failed.
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