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Six for 2016

VanSlykeHere we are, at the beginning of another year. 2015 was eventful, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of an uneventful year. While we don’t know what 2016 will bring, I know a few things I’d like to see in the New Year. Since I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I decided to simply describe what I hope to see this year in myself and in others.

More civility: This will surprise no one who read my December column. The world needs more civility and less rancor, especially as we move into the heart of a presidential election season. Okay, so you love/hate Hillary/Donald/Bernie/Ted/Jeb or whomever. Feel free to share your opinions, but there’s no reason to be a jerk about it. By the way, jerkishness (yeah, I know it’s not a word, but it fits my point) is totally ineffective when trying to sway someone’s opinion.

More open-mindedness: This goes hand-in-hand with more civility. While I can’t prove this, it seems to me that being more open-minded naturally leads to being more civil. John Stuart Mill makes the point that wisdom comes from being open to criticism of one’s opinions. Mill believes that the path to wisdom is through and being open to criticism and to “profit[ing] from as much of it as was just” and thinking through the “fallacy of what was fallacious.” In other words, consider that criticism might be valid, and when it is, profit from it by improving your opinion or behavior. This matches very well with other philosophies, including Stoicism. While Mill wrote specifically about criticisms, we can extend his thinking to the consideration of alternate views. As I’ve noted before, when we’re open to contrary views, we open ourselves to the possibility of refining our own opinion, or if honestly judging the contrary view to be fallacious, holding our view more strongly.

More thoughtfulness and awareness: My third hope (or maybe hopes) is for more thoughtfulness and awareness. To me, these two go hand-in-hand; one without the other is incomplete. Being more thoughtful requires being more aware of others, their feelings, their opinions, their needs, their wants, their emotions. I think of awareness as being input into thoughtfulness. Once you’re aware of others, you can ponder how your words and actions (or inactions) impact them, positively or negatively.

More micro-kindnesses: Some time ago, I wrote about the concept of micro-kindnesses, small kindnesses that cost you little, but potentially have a big impact on others. My point in that column is that we can all make the world just a little bit better by being just a little bit kinder. The really interesting thing about practicing small acts of kindness is that, over time, you’ll become a kinder person to the benefit of all you encounter.

Less hyper-sensitivity: Maybe I’m just getting old, but the world seems touchier. We’re ready to take offense at the smallest perceived slight. I won’t go into a litany of examples; I’m sure each of us can list many without much effort. There are (at least) two problems with being too easily offended. First, it gets in the way of our own happiness. Feeling offended brings with it negative emotions, which by definition, disturb our tranquility and happiness. One of the surest paths to a happier, more tranquil life is to reduce the extent to which the words and actions of others disturb us. As the Stoics teach us, we can’t control the actions of others, so there’s no point in letting those actions disturb us. Of course, there are actions and words that are so egregious that we can’t help but be disturbed by them. This brings me to the second problem with hyper-sensitivity; if you express outrage over little slights, others will pay less attention with you cry out over a major injustice. Save your outrage for the big issues.

More gratefulness: Kahill Gibran wrote, “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.” Judging from the rest of Gibran’s passage, it seems to me that he’s saying that we benefit from being more grateful. One of the issues I have with being overly sensitive is that it take focus away from what’s right in our lives and in the world. Sure, we face many problems, but there’s also much that’s right with the world. When you pay more attention to what’s good in your life, you bring happiness to yourself and those around you. To paraphrase Martha Stewart, that’s a good thing. FBN

I’m honored to lead Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business, home to over 3,400 students, and faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of those students and the economic development of Northern Arizona. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: http://www.franke.nau.edu/. I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to: craig.vanslyke@nau.edu, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.

By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.

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