What does it mean to give grace to others (or yourself) and how can we do it?
Grace, compassion, and productivity
At the end of every episode, I encourage you to extend grace to others and to yourself. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what that means: what grace is, why it matters, and how we can extend it.
It’s a concept I think is important, and as a result, I think it’s important that we’re on the same page on what we’re talking about.
What is grace?
One definition of grace is ‘simple elegance or refinement of movement.’ Another is ‘courteous goodwill.’
In the Christian faith, grace refers to ‘the free and unmerited favor of God,‘ and whether you follow Christian beliefs or not, this definition has some value in what we’re talking about today.
In the work I do as a real estate lawyer, the term “grace period” comes up a lot, and this refers to “a period officially allowed for payment of a sum due or for compliance with a law or condition, especially an extended period granted as a special favor.”
Another definition I love is “a disposition to kindness and compassion.”
The origin of the word grace comes from Middle English via Old French from the Latin word gratia, which means thankful. The term grace is related to grateful.
Think about that for a moment.
Synonyms of grace are blessing, courtesy, decency, manners, politeness, decorum, respect, favor, approval, approbation, acceptance, esteem, regard, respect, and goodwill. So, when I say extend grace to one another, I am saying extend favor to one another.
When I googled the word grace, most of the references talked about it in the context of the Christian faith: God’s grace to us being his unmerited favor. These articles talk about the difference between mercy and grace, where mercy is not giving a punishment that’s deserved, and grace is giving favor or blessing that is not deserved.
People of faith believe God has extended grace to us, and this creates an obligation to extend it to others. Even if you embrace a different faith, the concept still applies.
Grace does not mean excusing or ignoring fault or failure or bad behavior. Grace requires us to look at the recipient with compassion (which is defined as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others).
When we are asked to extend grace to someone else, we are giving them favor or approval they haven’t earned. In order to do that, we’re going to have to look at that person with compassion, sympathy, and concern for their sufferings and misfortunes.
I think the quote above is a great example of what compassion calls us to do: to remember that we don’t know what’s going on in the life of a person who we believe doesn’t deserve our approval or grace.
In order to extend grace to someone who is rude to us, for example, we’re going to have to look at them with compassion and recognize that we don’t see the whole story.
I believe the focus of grace should be on what we’re giving rather than what the other person deserves.
The point here is regardless of what another person may do, we can choose to extend grace. There may still be consequences for their behavior, but it doesn’t have to move in and live in our hearts. Grace is something we can generate on purpose out of compassion.
Why develop compassion in your life?
So why does it matter? Why do I talk about grace and compassion on a podcast about productivity?
Largely because, as we often say in The Productive Woman community, productivity is about more than getting stuff done, it’s about making a life that matters. And the impact on our own life of developing the compassion required to extend grace is immeasurable.
“Why develop compassion in your life? Well, there are scientific studies that suggest there are physical benefits to practicing compassion — people who practice it produce 100 percent more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol — the “stress hormone.” But there are other benefits as well, and these are emotional and spiritual. The main benefit is that it helps you to be more happy, and brings others around you to be more happy.”
When do we (or others) need grace?
- When we’ve messed up
- When we’re overwhelmed
- When we’ve fallen short of expectations
Perfect people don’t need grace, but there are no perfect people
Why does it matter?
- Do onto others as you would have them do unto you. When things go wrong, we want grace for ourselves, but justice for others. Maybe when we extend grace to others, they will extend grace back to us.
- Bearing grudges and living in judgment distract us from the things it takes to make the life we want. It takes a lot of mental energy to bear grudges and judge others. When we are focused on those emotions, we have fewer resources, internal or otherwise, to focus on accomplishing the things that matter. Therefore, extending grace to others and to ourselves has a direct bearing on our productivity.
- The opposite is unlivable
- Antonyms of grace – cruelty, disfavor, harshness, hatred, malevolence, meanness, unforgiveness, unkindness, ill will, enmity, animosity, hostility, antagonism, spitefulness, loathing, bitterness, resentment, malice, disapproval
What is gained by extending any of those to another person?
Nothing productive has ever come from these
- One person choosing to extend grace can make a difference. If the news media are to be believed, we live in an angry, judgmental, hateful, violent world. There is no way to overcome that except by choosing, each one of us, to live our lives guided by grace and compassion rather than by condemnation and anger.
How can we extend grace?
- With our words
“Be kind and gentle in what you say and how you say it.”
- With our acts
Look for opportunities to do a kindness
- Choose to not respond in kind when someone is rude to you – let it go
- Be present when they’re in need of support
- Understand that each person, even the “worst” person, is doing the best she is capable of at the moment, with the resources she has available to her
There are some wonderful suggestions in an article called “A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life, with 7 Practices”. One of my favorites was “the commonality practice.” The idea is to focus on what you have in common with others. Focus your attention on a particular person, maybe one who has wronged you and tell yourself:
Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
If you struggle with extending grace or feeling compassion towards certain people, try to picture them as a child. We usually find it easier to extend grace to children
To extend grace to yourself, start by doing all of the above.
Show compassion to yourself.
“Not everything that weighs you down is yours to carry.”
Maybe you’re weighed down by something or some things. Maybe guilt or grief or fear or a sense of inadequacy fills your mind (leaving you with no mental bandwidth to create or even think) or slows you or makes you hesitate instead of moving forward toward the meaningfully productive life you long for. Maybe there’s something you need to do, such as apologize to someone or even to yourself. But maybe whatever is weighing you down isn’t yours to carry. If that’s the case, then lay it down, my dear friend.
Grace is not earned. Grace is undeserved favor. You can extend this to yourself, just as you would to anybody else.
What do you think?
- A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life, With 7 Practices
- 9 Ways to Extend Grace to Others
- A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life, with 7 Practices”
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