by Mary Reitano

If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world. (Francis Bacon)

Grace is a concept that comes to the forefront during autumn holidays in the United States. Some families say grace at their Thanksgiving feast in thanks for the bounty and blessings in their lives. In the Christian tradition, grace was extended to mankind with the birth of the Christ child. But what is grace?  One definition of grace in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is “unmerited divine assistance….”  Author Paul F.M. Zahl describes grace as “love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of loveable…. Grace is one-way love.” And, during the holidays, in response to grace received, many people pay it forward with increased donations to charities and individuals in need.

But grace can extend beyond the holiday season to affect our actions throughout the year, if we allow it to spill over into our daily lives. Grace means ongoing kindness and compassion. Grace positively influences how we treat each other, and it is sorely needed in the world today. Merriam-Webster also defines grace as a “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” A gracious attitude means giving people the benefit of the doubt, assuming the best of others, accepting others, being kind, and forgiving others–even if not deserved. We know when we have met a gracious person―perhaps they made us feel special, or kindly minimized a mistake–helping us relax and feel okay about our imperfections. But, when we are around an ungracious person, we tend to feel on edge and on guard, because minor errors are magnified, benefits must be earned, and nothing we do is good enough. Blogger Jim Martin observed that “a gracious person is slow to take credit and quick to lavish praise; never seeks to embarrass another; is always thanking others; and looks out for the comfort of others.”  An ancient proverb says that “gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  

Even the business world acknowledges the value of grace. In the article titled How to Be Gracious, and Why, Tom Chiarella wrote “In business, the little things ― a favor acknowledged, a favor returned, proper introductions, smiles, attentiveness ― are really the big things. Graciousness looks easy, but of course it is not. Do not mistake mere manners for graciousness. Manners are rules. Helpful, yes. But graciousness reflects a state of being; it emanates from your inventory of self.”  Donna Baumann studied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. In organizational settings, she explored “a singular relational behavior…, “Gracious Mindset (GM), a mindset to consciously practice, when endeavoring to give others the benefit of the doubt, assuming a respectful interpretation of the other’s intent or motivation.…” Baumann also commented on the need to balance competition with cooperation, both valuable business traits. 

In closing, I share wisdom from a favorite rock and roll singer, Stevie Nicks, of Fleetwood Mac: “Your graciousness is what carries you. It isn’t how old you are, how young you are, how beautiful you are…. What it is, is what comes out of your heart. If you are gracious, you have won the game.”  

Mary Reitano is a National Certified Counselor, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of North Carolina. She is available as a speaker on positive psychology and emotional wellness topics such as stress reduction, building resilience, relationship repair, increasing vitality, and savoring life. She can be reached at maryalisonreitano@gmail.com.