From Psychology Today, by Deborah Khoshaba Psy.D.
Self-love is a popular term today that gets tossed around in normal conversation. “You have to love yourself more.” “Why don’t you love yourself?” “If you only loved yourself, this wouldn’t have happened to you.” “You can’t love another person until you love yourself first.” These are just a few of the self-love directives that we give or get to suggest a way to more living fulfillment.
Self-love is important to living well. It influences who you pick for a mate, the image you project at work, and how you cope with the problems in your life. It is so important to your welfare that I want you to know how to bring more of it into your life.
What is self-love, then? Is it something you can buy in a beauty
makeover or a new set of clothing? Can you get more of it by reading something inspirational? Or, can a new relationship make you love yourself more? The answer to all of these questions is No! Although they feel good and are gratifying, you can’t grow in self-love through these types of activities. Since, self-love is not simply a state of feeling good.
Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love is dynamic; it grows by actions that mature us. When we act in ways that expand self-love in us, we begin to accept much better our weaknesses as well as our strengths, have less need to explain away our short-comings, have compassion for ourselves as human beings struggling to find personal meaning, are more centered in our life purpose and values, and expect living fulfillment through our own efforts.
Here is my Seven-Step Prescription for Self-Love.
- Become mindful. People who have more self-love tend to know what they think, feel and want. They are mindful of who they are and act on this knowledge, rather than on what others want for them.
- Act on what you need rather than what you want. You love yourself when you can turn away from something that feels good and exciting to what you need to stay strong, centered, and moving forward in your life, instead. By staying focused on what you need, you turn away from automatic behavior patterns that get you into trouble, keep you stuck in the past, and lessen self-love.
- Practice good self-care. You will love yourself more, when you take better care of your basic needs. People high in self-love nourish themselves daily through healthy activities, like sound nutrition, exercise, proper sleep, intimacy and healthy social interactions.
- Set boundaries. You’ll love yourself more when you set limits or say no to work, love, or activities that deplete or harm you physically, emotionally and spiritually, or express poorly who you are.
- Protect yourself. Bring the right people into your life. I love the term frenemies that I learned from my younger clients. It describes so well the type of “friends” who take pleasure in your pain and loss rather than in your happiness and success. My suggestion to you here: Get rid of them! There isn’t enough time in your life to waste on people who want to take away the shine on your face that says, “I genuinely love myself and life”. You will love and respect yourself more.
- Forgive yourself. We humans can be so hard on ourselves. The downside of taking responsiblity for our actions is punishing ourselves too much for mistakes in learning and growing. You have to accept your humanness (the fact that you are not perfect), before you can truly love yourself. Practice being less hard on yourself when you make a mistake. Remember, there are no failures, if you have learned and grown from your mistakes; there are only lessons learned.
- Live intentionally. You will accept and love yourself more, whatever is happening in your life, when you live with purpose and design. Your purpose doesn’t have to be crystal clear to you. If your intention is to live a meaningful and healthy life, you will make decisions that support this intention, and feel good about yourself when you succeed in this purpose. You will love yourself more if you see yourself accomplishing what you set out to do. You need to establish your living intentions, to do this.
If you choose just one or two of these self-love actions to work on, you will begin to accept and love yourself more. Just imagine how much you’ll appreciate you when you exercise these seven-steps to self-love. It is true that you can only love a person as much as you love yourself. If you exercise all of the actions of self-love that I describe here, you will allow and encourage others to express themselves in the same way. The more self-love you have for yourself, the better prepared you are for healthy relating. Even more, you will start to attract people and circumstances to you that support your well-being.
Start with Step 1, learn to be mindful… Attend the Upcoming Mindfulness Meditation class at Synergy.
We’ve all heard that we should make New Years resolutions,
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Article by Ellen Hendriksen, PhD from Scientific American
“Is depression contagious? The short answer is: yes—it’s not called the common cold of mental illness for nothing.
But like most things, it’s complicated. Depression is contagious, but it’s not as if you get infected when your depressed friend cries on your shoulder. Instead, your own susceptibility or immunity depends on lots of things–your genetics, history, stress, and more.
It’s been known for almost a decade that both healthy and unhealthy behaviors are contagious—if your friends quit smoking or become obese, you’re more likely to do so, too. Even suicide can come in clusters.
Depression comes with its own set of unhealthy behaviors—pessimistic talk, criticizing self and others, cancelling social plans, getting into unhealthy sleeping and eating patterns, and generally being irritable or withdrawn. And it turns out that these behaviors—and the negative beliefs that drive them—can be communicated from person to person.
So roommates of depressed college students, children of depressed parents, and yes, for the listener who requested this episode, spouses of depressed partners also show comparable depressive symptoms.
And it’s not just the people you live with or see every day—emotions can be contagious within up to three degrees of separation. Better hope Kevin Bacon’s not depressed or all of Hollywood is going down.
Let’s look more closely at a study of college roommates that came out in 2014. Researchers studied over 100 pairs of newly assigned freshman roommates at move-in, and then again three and six months later. They examined, among other things, the students’ symptoms of depression and their tendency to ruminate—that is, their inclination to get tangled up in their own lousy feelings and to obsess about the causes and consequences of feeling bad.
Sure enough, freshmen who were paired with a roommate with a tendency to ruminate also picked up the tendency, which greatly increased their risk of depression. To be clear: depression symptoms themselves weren’t contagious, but thinking styles were. Freshmen who “caught” a ruminative style of thinking from their roommates had twice as many depressive symptoms after six months as those who didn’t pick up the thinking style.
Next, a 2015 study showed that depression can be made contagious under laboratory conditions, at least in rats. Researchers induced depression in rats by putting them through unpredictable, uncontrollable stressors over several weeks—a close approximation of chronic stress in people. For the rats, it meant things like keeping the lights on for 48 hours at a stretch and spilling water on their bedding—all probably better than being a pet in a kindergarten classroom, but still enough to make the rats depressed. For a rat, that doesn’t mean turning down invitations to Rats’ Night Out—it means an apathy to sugar water, a lab rat’s greatest pleasure. This is a marker of anhedonia—a hallmark symptom of depression in people and, apparently, rats.
After the rats became depressed, the researchers introduced some new roommates. Two depressed rats and a new, fresh-faced non-depressed rat (“Hiya guys!”) were housed together. Turns out living with someone depressed is, well, depressing, even if you’re a rat. Within just a few weeks, the new rats exhibited the same symptoms as the depressed rats.
Now, we can’t replicate such a controlled experiment with humans (I don’t think I’d let researchers come to my house and spill water on my bedding), but it makes sense. Given enough airtime, a negative outlook—about the world, yourself, and the future—can be convincing. If your depressed roommate or partner is critical, withdrawn, apathetic, and convinces you things will never get better, the dark cloud can spread over you, too.
Now, does this mean you should drop your depressed friend or partner? Unfortunately, only you can answer that one. It’s a tough challenge without an easy solution.
On the one hand, do your best to communicate that your loved one is just that: loved. Not to mention that they are important to you, worthy of your love, and deserving of feeling better. Encourage them to seek help, but it may take an incredible amount of bravery on their part (and patience on yours) to take the first step.
On the other hand, staying out of guilt when you’ve given your all isn’t an option either. You can’t rescue your loved one. You’re up against a host of factors, none of which you can control and there may come a point where you need to save yourself. Depression annihilates any shred of motivation; in severe depression, it can be difficult to get motivated to eat, shower, or unfortunately, seek help or make changes in one’s life.
One hopeful note: it’s not only depressive thinking that’s contagious. Positive emotions and thinking styles can be contagious, too. Think of the rush of excitement at a sports event or concert, the palpable calm after a yoga class, the simple courtesy of service with a smile, and of course, the warm fuzzies from hugging someone you love. Indeed, in the roommate study, freshmen who were paired with a roommate whose thinking style was more positive “caught” a healthier thinking style.
To sum up, emotions are contagious—and while your partner isn’t the only factor, depressive thinking definitely plays a role in whether your partnership spirals into a distress system or holds strong as a support system.”
Chimichurri Kabobs Recipe from Whole 30
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Marinate Time: 1 to 8 hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes plus marinating
1 pound lean steak (sirloin, strip, flank) cut into 1-inch dice
[We also like to substitute steak with lamb, fish, or vegetables!]
1 1/2 cups Chimichurri (see recipe below).
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch squares
1 onion, cut into 6 wedges
1 zucchini, cut into 1 1/2-inch-thick-rounds
If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes to 1 hour to prevent them from burning.
PLACE the steak in a resealable plastic bag or nonreactive bowl with a lid. Cover the steak with enough chimichurri (about 1 cup) to coat thoroughly. Seal the bag or cover the bowl and marinate the steak in the refrigerator for 1 to 8 hours; more is better, especially for tougher cuts. (Feel free to leave your steak marinating overnight).
REMOVE the steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the grill to high heat (500 degrees Fahrenheit).
REMOVE the steak from the marinade; discard the marinate. Prepare the kabobs by threading the steak, bell pepper, onion, and zucchini onto soaked wooden skewers or metal skewers, alternating meat and vegetables. You should be able to make about 6 skewers.
GRILL the kabobs directly over high hear for 2 minutes on each side. Reduce the heat to medium (or move the kabobs to indirect heat. Grill to desired doneness, 12 to 15 minutes, and serve with the remaining chimichurri.
Makes: 2 1/2 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
COMBINE the vinegar, lime juice, garlic, and shallot in a food processor and mix on low speed. Drizzle in the olive oil while mixing; the dressing will begin to emulsify. Add the cilantro, parsley, salt, and pepper and continue to mix on low until the dressing is uniform in texture and the herb pieces are chopped quite small.
CHIMICHURRI will last 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. If making ahead, bring it to room temperature before serving. If the dressing has separated, gently whisk to reblend.
February 2016 – McKinsley & Co Podcast Transcript
Featuring Manish Chopra
“Leaders of high-intensity, high-performing organizations are beginning to recognize the important effects of mindfulness, exercise, and sleep on the body—and the brain.
Living in a fast-paced, digitally focused, hyperconnected world often means sacrificing the ability to step back and take a breath. In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey Publishing’s Lucia Rahilly taps principal Manish Chopra, specialist Els van der Helm, and author and McKinsey alumna Caroline Webb for their experience and expertise on the mind–body connection and why executives are increasingly taking notice.
Lucia Rahilly: Welcome to the McKinsey Podcast. I’m Lucia Rahilly, McKinsey’s publications director—and I have a confession to make: today I am really overtired. Nonetheless, I plan to have a pretty productive day through some combination of caffeine, maybe a little sugar, hopefully the odd adrenaline rush. So I’m doing what most of us do, which is powering through the fatigue. But is my lack of sleep having more of an effect on my performance than I realize?
We’re going to talk about sleep and other risks to executive well-being posed by today’s relentlessly fast and furious work culture. We’ll also discuss some techniques that high- performing business leaders use to manage those risks successfully. Joining me in New York today are Manish Chopra, a partner in McKinsey’s New York office and author of the book The Equanimous Mind, which chronicles the impact of meditation on his personal and professional life. Welcome, Manish.
Manish Chopra: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Lucia Rahilly: We also have Els van der Helm, a specialist in McKinsey’s Amsterdam office, who advises McKinsey clients and consultants on the importance of sleep in organizations. Welcome, Els.
Els van der Helm: Thank you.
Lucia Rahilly: And Caroline Webb, a former partner in McKinsey’s London office and an external senior adviser to McKinsey on leadership. Caroline is also the CEO of Sevenshift, an advisory firm that uses behavioral science to help clients improve their professional lives, and she is the author of the new book How to Have a Good Day. Welcome, Caroline.
Caroline Webb: Thank you.
Lucia Rahilly: I want to start by asking each of you to give a few words of context on what seems to be a burgeoning interest in wellness, and particularly in wellness in the workplace. People have been griping about the accelerating pace of working life and its effects on attention and well-being for 150 years, basically since industrialization, and probably before. So why now—why this intensifying focus now on how best to cope in the workplace? Els, let’s start with you and what you’ve learned from your research on sleep.
Els van der Helm: Even though people are used to being tired, I do think it’s changed in that with new technology there are fewer moments in the day where we take a break, have some self-reflection, and take it easy.
When I ask people in my workshops where their phone is at night, 80 percent say it’s in their bedroom. Over half of them check their email in bed. I think there is definitely something that has changed compared with, say 20 years ago. We’re also much more aware of what the effect is of a healthy lifestyle so that in general we know we should eat more healthily and spend more time exercising.
I think mindfulness and sleep are the next things to focus on. Companies are starting to realize that they have these highly educated employees who are very capable, but that that’s not enough. You need to make sure that they are engaged, happy, and healthy.
Lucia Rahilly: What about some of the research on brain science? Has that illuminated the effects of well-being on performance in a way that businesses can see? Caroline, do you want to take that one?
Caroline Webb: Oh, enormously so. I would say everything that Els has just said is absolutely right, that the shift in technology has led to our always-on lives. That’s obviously raised awareness of the impact of executive well-being.
But I think it’s also the fact that the evidence is just much sharper and more compelling. There are statistically robust studies that show that when you are sleep deprived it affects your cognitive functioning and your emotional resilience. There are studies, across the board, that show that, effectively, what you’re doing is depriving the part of your brain that is more sophisticated, what I call the Deliberate System—you’re making it very difficult for it to do its job fully. For data-driven, evidence-hungry, senior people who need to know that there’s a real reason for shifting behavior, the scientific evidence really helps.
Lucia Rahilly: Manish, your journey seems to have been more of a personal one. We were talking before this podcast started about the broadening of meditation in the culture. Do you have thoughts on that that you’d like to share?
“An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days. So he decided to play a little game with them. He managed to get candy from the nearest town and put it all in a decorated basket at the foot of a tree.
Then he called the children and suggested they play the game. When the anthropologist said “now”, the children had to run to the tree and the first one to get there could have all the candy to him/herself.
So the children all lined up waiting for the signal. When the anthropologist said “now”, all of the children took each other by the hand and ran together towards the tree. They all arrived at the same time divided up the candy, sat down and began to happily munch away.
The anthropologist went over to them and asked why they had all run together when any one of them could have had the candy all to themselves.
The children responded: “Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others were sad?”
Ubuntu is a philosophy of some African tribes that can be summed up as “I am what I am because of who we all are.”
In 2008, Bishop Desmond Tutu gave this explanation of “ubuntu” . . . “One of the sayings in our country is “Ubuntu”, the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our inter-connection. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
“The reality is that a minute amount of a vitamin in its whole food form is more effective nutritionally than a large amount of a synthetic one!
An excellent illustration of this is the story involving a medical doctor held captive in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean war (1950-1953). After a period of time on their severely inadequate diet, many of the doctor’s fellow prisoners began showing signs of beriberi, a disease that results from a severe thiamine (B1) deficiency. He notified the Red cross, and they sent him thiamine in a synthetic form, thiamine HCl (a coal tar-based vitamin). The doctor gave this to his patients, but their health continued to deteriorate.
Finally, the doctor’s North Korean guards whispered to him that beriberi could be cured with rice polish, the nutritive outer layers of the rice that are removed when it is refined. He thought the suggestion was absurd, but he had nothing to lose so he started giving his patients a teaspoon or more of rice polish every day. Within a short time, the beriberi epidemic ceased.
There is only about one level teaspoon of thiamine in an entire ton (2,000 pounds) of unrefined, whole rice. The amount of thiamine that the prisoners of war were getting in their rice polish was infinitesimal. What a tribute to unrefined rice and an excellent example of the potency of whole foods!” – pp. 40 from Back to the Basics of Human Health, By Mary Frost.
We have a copy of Mary’s book for you at the office. If you’d like to read it cover to cover, all 82 pages, the next time you are at Synergy, just mention that you are reading the blogs and we’ll give you a copy of the book!
Since the late 1970’s, research has shown that women who eat cruciferous vegetables have an overall reduced risk of breast tissue abnormalities. Vegetables such as kale and Brussels sprouts contain compounds that shift the breakdown of estrogen to ore of the protective “good estrogen,” thus protecting against breast tissue abnormalities.
Research has shown women who supplemented their diet with dehydrated organic Brussels sprouts and kale were able to experience a substantial positive shift in their estrogen metabolism. A new study has shown that a supplement program containing 3.6 grams of dehydrated organic Brussels sprouts and kale was effective in tipping the delicate balance of estrogen in favor of the “good” form. Organically grown, bio-available kale and Brussels sprouts are now available in a supplement.
Talk to our licensed acupuncturist at Synergy, Mimi, today about how whole food supplementation can benefit your estrogen metabolism.
- Muti P, Bradlow HL, Miocheli A, et al. Estrogen metabolism and risk of breast cancer: a prospective study of the 2:16alpha-hydroxyesterone ratio in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. 2000 Nov;11(6):635-40.
- Michnovicz JJ, Adlercreutz H, Bradlow HL. Changes in levels of urinary estrogen metabolites after oral indole-3-carbinol treatment in humans. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1997 May 21;89(10):718-23
- Michnovicz JJ. Increased estrogen 2-hydroxylation in obese women using oral indole-3-carbinol. Intl J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1998 Mar;22(3):227-9.
- Michnovicz JJ, Bradlow HL. Altered estrogen metabolism and excretion in humans following consumption of indole-3-carbinol. Cancer. 1991;16(1):59-66
- Kall MA, Vang O, Clausen J. Effects of dietary broccoli on human drug metabolizing activity. Cancer Lett. 1997 Mar 19;114(1-2):169-70
- Bradlow HL, Telang NT, Sepkovic DW, Osborne MP. 2-hydroxyesterone: the estrogen. J Endocrinol. 1996 Sep;150SupplS259-65.
- Dalessandri KM, Firestone GL, Fitch MD, Bradlow HL, Bjeldanes LF. Pilot study: effect of 3,3-diindolylmethane supplements on urinary hormone metabolites in postmenopausal women with a history of early-stage breast cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2004;50(2):161-7.
- Morrison J, Mutell D, Pollock T, Redmond E, Bralley A, Lord R. Efficacy of dried cruciferous powder for raising the 2/16 Hydroxyestrogen ratio.
By Alice G. Walton
Most people are aware of the fact that meditation, in its many forms, can tweak the brain and body in a number of beneficial ways. It’s been shown to increase volume in certain brain regions, to reduce anxiety and depression, and even to improve immunity. Of course, exactly how meditation is doing all these things isn’t totally understood. But a new study, in the journal Translational Psychiatry, helps suss out the molecular mechanisms behind meditation’s effects on the immune system. And it turns out that the effects are more than from just the relaxation element – there seems to be something intrinsic about meditation itself that can shift gene expression and even boost mood over time.
In the new study, the team of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, University of California at San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School had 94 women come to the Chopra Center for Well Being in California. Half of the women went in for a six-day vacation retreat, the half for a six-day meditation retreat. Neither of these groups of women had any experience with meditation – but a third group, made up of 30 experienced meditators also visiting the Center, were also studied. The team took blood samples from the participants, so they could analyze what genes were expressed, before the retreat, directly after it, one month, and 10 months later.
And there were some interesting changes in the 20,000 genes studied. All the groups showed shifts in the expression of genes related to stress, inflammation and wound healing. The experienced meditators had particular shifts in genes related to fighting viral infection. They also had increases in telomerase activity – an enzyme that builds telomeres, the sections at the ends of chromosomes that help keep them from “unraveling.” Telomeres shorten over time naturally, and shorter length is linked a number of chronic illnesses, so increasing telomere length is thought to indicate healthier aging.
Another shift that occurred was in the ratio of two kinds of amyloid-beta proteins, which is known to be linked to dementia and depression. The novice meditator group had shifts toward a better ratio of the proteins. The experienced meditators, interestingly, started out with better levels, and this didn’t change over the course of the study, which suggests that meditation has both short- and long-term effects on levels of this brain compound.
Finally, everyone experienced a subjective change from their retreat — a boost in mood — which, for some, lingered long after the retreat ended. And it was most pronounced in the novice meditators, who reported significant decreases in depressive symptoms, even at the 10-month mark.
By Alice G. Walton
Written by Tasha Eurich – October 13, 2016
I recently spent the weekend with one of my dearest friends. She is brilliant, hilarious, kind and giving, and I just adore her. We have one of those rare and wonderful friendships that comes along just a few times in life (if we’re lucky).
But my friend also holds—quite literally — the opposite political views as I do. And if I’m honest, I’ve often caught myself wondering why someone so utterly wonderful could also be so spectacularly wrong.
For that reason, even though I’d been looking forward to seeing her for months, I was also a bit nervous about what would happen if we talked about politics. I was certain that no amount of discussion was going to change her mind, so I decided that the best strategy was to avoid the topic altogether.
But in the weeks leading up to my visit, this vexing question still haunted me: how could my friend be so wrong?
Then, the day before I got on the plane to see her, a different thought popped into my mind. What if, I wondered, I’m the one who is wrong? It was a question that I had never considered.
Granted, for any hot-button political issue, there is rarely a singular, unequivocal “right answer.” Most of us realize, at least intellectually, that there are many valid ways of seeing the world. But personally, when I feel strongly about something, it’s hard to see past my beliefs and assumptions. As a result, I rarely question them.
If I may be so bold, I’m clearly not the only one who is guilty of this.
Research shows that we typically assume that others share our views (often called the False Consensus Effect) and get upset when they don’t. After all, our beliefs are so rational, so well-thought out and so correct that unless someone was a total moron, they would come to the same conclusion. This logic is deeply flawed, and it makes us cling absurdly tightly to our opinions. (Research suggests that even when they are threatened by pesky things like facts, we tend to overlook those facts or discredit the source.)
Of late, as anyone with a social media account can attest, when we shout our beliefs from the rooftops and label everyone who doesn’t share them ill-informed (or worse), there are real consequences to our self-awareness, our success and our relationships. Case in point: a recent study found that this year, nearly one in 10 people have ended a friendship because of an election-related disagreement.
But this problem and its consequences don’t just show up in our political discussions. Perhaps you think that your spouse’s approach to parenting is ineffective, and it’s landed you into a seemingly endless series of disagreements. Or at work, after shutting down a colleague who suggested a smarter strategy, you were surprised to see your performance suffer. Or you just can’t get behind your friend’s new significant other, even though you haven’t even tried to see this person the way your friend sees them.
Fascinatingly, our reluctance to question our beliefs may be biologically based. As neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran describes, when we encounter a differing viewpoint, the two hemispheres of our brain lock horns in a fierce battle. The left hemisphere, usually associated with rational and logical thought, fights to preserve our existing beliefs while the right hemisphere wants to play devil’s advocate and see things more objectively. But when our right and left hemispheres square off, the left hemisphere usually wins.
Given the biological basis of such behavior, does this mean that we are forever doomed to judge, argue with and “unfriend” the people who don’t agree with us? Thankfully, we can loosen our left hemisphere’s white knuckled grip, but it takes conscious effort. The question I asked myself with my friend — “what if I’m the one who is wrong?” — is a surprisingly effective way to help our right hemisphere get a word in edgewise.
Of course, when I first pondered this question, I was more than a little distraught. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really was possible. Even if I wasn’t actually “wrong,” I was pretty sure that adopting this mindset would help me develop a richer, fuller perspective.
When I arrived at my friend’s apartment the next day, I dropped my bags and promptly announced that I wanted to spend the weekend trying to understand her political views. With a wry smile, she agreed.
From the moment we started talking, I found myself listening in a completely new way. I wasn’t getting upset or emotional. I wasn’t trying to compose fact-based retorts. I was just hearing her. This, I realized, is what the late, great Stephen Covey really meant when he advised us to “seek first to understand, then be understood.”
This didn’t meant that the entire weekend was easy. There were a few times that I wanted to storm out of the room, but it was far less than I would have predicted. By the end of the weekend, I had a much, much richer appreciation of my friend’s perspective.
Of course, it’s one thing to commit to understanding the people we love — our spouse, our friends, our family — but let’s extend this idea one step further: can (and should) we apply this concept to people we don’t like or respect?
I recently heard an interview with Amaryllis Fox, a former counter-terrorism clandestine services officer. In it, she provided one of the most profound observations about human behavior I have ever heard. “The one thing I learned in the Agency,” she said, “is that everyone thinks they’re the good guy.”
In Fox’s case, she learned that the only way to fight the bad guys was to try to understand what would make otherwise normal people commit such grievous acts. Anytime we label our enemies as completely bad people — be they religious radicals, the school bully or a particularly sociopathic boss — we can’t even begin to intelligently deal with them. As Abraham Lincoln once declared, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
My “weekend of understanding” with my friend hasn’t changed my position much, but a lot of things are different. I genuinely respect where she’s coming from. I feel smarter and more informed. Most importantly, our relationship is stronger.
This is a somewhat counter-intuitive lesson: the next time you discover that someone you love, respect or work with has a wildly different opinion about something, don’t waste time trying to make them see things your way, or avoid the subject in an attempt to minimize conflict.* Instead, ask yourself “what if I’m wrong?” and really entertain their perspective.
At the end of the day, as British philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell advised, when we don’t feel absolutely certain about anything, that’s when we truly begin to understand who we are and appreciate others for the same thing.