Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind
word, a listening ear, an honest accomplishment, or the smallest act
of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
-Leo Buscaglia, author and motivational speaker
A couple of years ago, I was hired to do a weekend retreat with burn survivors, their families, and their caregivers. I was brought in to teach them how to lighten up.
It was the first time I had ever worked with people who were severely burned. It was also the longest amount of time I had ever spent with any group in my twenty-plus years of being a professional speaker. On Friday night, I had an introductory session with them. On Saturday, they all participated in my all-day workshop. And finally, on Sunday morning, a wrap-up segment. It was the most challenging workshop I had ever done in my speaking career, and perhaps the most gratifying.
I didn’t know how I could possibly teach people to laugh when they had been through such a horrific ordeal. I didn’t know how I would react to their disfigurement. I didn’t know how I could sustain such a long period of time with them. Would I have enough material to fill the weekend? Would it be relevant to them? After all, they had been through hell. I hadn’t.
The truth was that all my fears were unfounded. They loved what I did. They jumped at any chance to laugh. And once I got over the initial shock of seeing their deformities, all I could see was their radiant spirit. They didn’t know it, but they taught me more than I taught them.
They taught me about courage.
They taught me about unconditional love as I watched their caretakers attend to the survivor’s every need.
They taught me that in spite of what they went through, they could laugh. In fact, they craved it.
One of the processes I did with them was a real eye-opener both for them and for me. I showed them a video of another burn survivor, a professional-speaker colleague of mine named W. Mitchell. He was not only severely burned in a motorcycle accident but just as he was recovering from that ordeal he lost the use of his legs when his private plane crashed.
After viewing the video, I asked each person in the group to make a list of all the qualities in Mitchell that they most admired. I then asked them to highlight three of those qualities that they also saw in themselves. Each person in the room then shared those qualities with the group. There were many tears shed as the burn survivors realized that they too were courageous, heroic, and brave.
The reason I’m sharing this story with you is that qualities that you admire in others are some of the same qualities you have within yourself. And this goes for both the qualities you admire and those that perhaps repel you.
So the next time some negative aspect of someone annoys you, remember that you probably have that same quality within you too. The best you can do in that situation, therefore, is to be kind to them because, on some level, you are just like them.