“Gratitude is a way for people to
appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in
the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can't feel satisfied
until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people
refocus on what they have instead of what they lack." Harvard Medical
I have a new secret tool for
upgrading or calming my troubled thoughts.
Years ago, a teacher and leader I
admired taught me a simple method for reining in out-of-control
thoughts. He taught me to sing or hum an uplifting song to myself whenever
I found my mind wandering in unhappy, anxious, discouraging, or
inappropriate paths, or when my thoughts were racing and keeping me from
going to sleep. Amazingly, after only a verse or two, my thinking
would shift into a more positive direction or I would be able to relax and
drift off to sleep.
Lately, however, for reasons
unknown to me, singing a song to myself has become less effective than it
used to be. Perhaps the song had become repetitious, perhaps the
neural pathways in my brain were getting older, or perhaps it was something
related to the pandemic. Whatever the cause, my singing technique
wasn’t working as well anymore.
But recently I have come across a
new approach, a different methodology for controlling or quieting my
I’ve been thinking a lot these days
about gratitude, trying to write something appropriate for the Thanksgiving
season. With those ideas floating around in my head, I made an amazing
discovery. I have found that when I can’t sleep or when my mind is
roaming in undesirable directions, I can place myself in a happy, inspiring
place by asking myself one simple question.
It’s a simple but effective
query. When I ask myself The Gratitude Question, I find that, without
resistance, my brain glides into thankful, appreciative territory where I
relax and realize how blessed I am. While there, I remember that when
you love what you have, you have everything you need. While there, I
recognize how much I love the people who surround me. While there, I
stop worrying; I stop fretting; I stop yearning for things I don’t
have. I am at peace.
Going to my thankful place by
asking myself “What Are You Grateful For?” completely changes my
spirit and attitude. My eyes are opened to the multitude of blessings
that continually surround me. From that vantage point, I treasure the
words of William Arthur Ward, who wrote: "Gratitude can transform
common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change
ordinary opportunities into blessings."
This Thanksgiving, despite the
uncertainty and angst swirling around us, I choose to be grateful. I choose
to cherish everyone and everything that blesses my life. I choose to
believe what Melody Beattie said: "Gratitude unlocks the fullness
of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more."
This Thanksgiving, I’m especially
thankful for my wonderful new super-question: “What Are You Grateful
Perhaps you should try asking
yourself The Gratitude Question and see what happens for you. For me,
it changes everything.
is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and
connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their
lives.” Oprah Winfrey
the past several months, our country has experienced the most
non-empathetic environment I can remember. Everyone has been shouting at
each other and imagining that their rancorous arguing was changing
someone’s mind, when in fact no one was listening and not one person’s
mind was actually changed.
is a dangerous place to be. The fabric of our society is fraying due to
these divisions. “I believe empathy is the most essential quality of
civilization,” said Roger Ebert. “The death of human empathy is one of
the earliest and most telling signs of a culture about to fall into
barbarism,” according to Hannah Arendt. Sadly, in this tumult many
friendships and familial relationships have been torn asunder.
do not pretend to know how to fix what’s going on in our country, but I
do have an idea about how we might repair schisms on a personal level.
must return to empathy, and it starts with simply being nice to one
another. “The outward expression of empathy is courtesy.” Stewart
Butterfield. Somehow, a lot of folks have come to think that the
challenges and injuries that they have experienced justify their
striking out at others who see life differently. Nothing could be
further from the truth. No one heals themselves by wounding another.
isn’t complicated. It starts with a desire to understand another human
being. In the words of C. JoyBell C., “empathy is the ability to step
outside of your own bubble and into the bubbles of other people.”
Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of
another, and feeling with the heart of another. True empathy requires
that you step outside your own emotions to view things from the
perspective of the other person.
like the way Brene Brown expressed it: “Empathy is simply listening,
holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and
communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not
alone.” Unfortunately, most of us aren’t really listening when we think
we are, especially when the other person holds a different viewpoint
from us. “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real
understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind,
is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” Carl Rogers.
are powerful professional advantages to empathy. For example, empathy
is the key to great sales and marketing. An old adage, though somewhat
dated, remains true: "If you want to know what John Smith buys, you must
see the world through John Smith's eyes."
ago, I learned another benefit to empathy in an unlikely setting: law
school. By its nature, the legal profession tends to be adversarial, so
it’s easy to think there is no place for empathy in that world.
E. Lee, my law school dean, was an extremely effective appellate
attorney. He personally argued 59 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court as
Solicitor General of the United States and in private practice. He
taught his students that empathy would make them better advocates. He
said: “You must fully understand both sides of the question before the
court. If you can’t articulate your opponent’s side of the case as
readily as your own, you really don’t know the strength or weakness of
your own position.” His counsel has helped me in numerous situations
over the past 40 years.
you looking for a wonderful way to create empathy in a one-to-one
setting? Here’s a great idea from one of my favorite authors, Stephen R.
Covey. He espoused the idea of the Native American talking stick as a
way to listen empathically. In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes this technique:
idea is that only the person holding the stick gets to make their point
and they continue to speak on this point until they feel they have been
fully understood by the listener. The other person is only permitted to
speak insofar as they need to clarify what they’ve heard, or to
demonstrate that they have understood the speaker. Before stating his or
her own point, Person #2 must restate Person #1’s position to Person
that has occurred, Person #2 may state his or her own position, and
Person #1 in turn must restate Person #2’s position to Person #2’s
satisfaction before the conversation may move forward.
soon as Person #2 feels they had been understood, they pass the talking
stick back to Person #1. After this occurs, Person #1 can begin again
to explain their current thoughts.
Indian Talking Stick principle is a powerful communication device for
resolving disagreements and for exploring the possibility that there may
be a superior answer that neither one of them held before. The best way
forward may not be “your way” or “my way,” but a third way that arises
from truly listening to and understanding each other.
we use Covey’s talking stick approach, or we just slow down and start
really listening to each other — even those we disagree with — we
urgently need to find more empathy, individually and as a nation. I pray