After being honored in a tribute at the Kennedy Center in 2013 the renowned musician, Carlos Santana, was interviewed by several eager reporters. He was often asked about the musicians he most admired, the turning points in his life and how it felt to be popular again. Yet, according to his wife, the question that drew the biggest smile from Santana was, “What do you consider your greatest achievement?”
Santana answered, “I am becoming the people I love.”
Then rather than proceeding to talk about himself, he described, in vivid detail, the loving behavior of others he was increasingly emulating.
Who Are You Becoming?
Whether he’d met me after completing a complex international conference call for his company Columbia Steel, where he was chairman, or after a church service, our deeply cherished family friend Hobard Bird, usually greeted me by saying something like, “What’s made you happy today, Kare?”
After listening closely and asking follow-up questions, he’d then inquire, “Now what are you going to do to spread that lovely spirit I see?” Since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve looked forward to seeing him. On into his eighties, Mr. Bird has spread his spirit of deep caring and curiosity in most conversations. That behavior became contagious.
Each time I returned to Portland to visit family and friends, I noticed more people who know Mr. Bird. With a warm smile on their faces, they ask me their variation of those two questions. In those conversations we tend to bring out the best side in each other and to leave feeling affirmed, uplifted and interested in supporting each other.
In your silent self-talk and spoken conversations, what role are you playing with others and how does it feel – and how does it seem to make them feel? One thing I learned after reflecting on what I dubbed the Hobard Bird Effect was the counter-intuitive way to become popular and respected. Recognize that, when first meeting or re-meeting someone, more vital than how they feel about you is how they feel about themselves when around you.
In those reflective moments in the car, or when you first awaken or are about to drift to sleep, what are you often telling yourself – about yourself and about the main actors in your life? Do you enjoy the current story line of your life?
Are your most familiar scripts filled with envy, worry or fear, or with optimism, openness and joy? Unless you’ve had a frontal lobotomy you are merely human and you have felt both extremes at different times. But where do you live in your thoughts and words most of the time? How we describe ourselves — and others — is the story line we are creating for our lives, delineating the role we play and affecting the roles of those around us.
What Kind of Character Do You Really Want To Play in Your Life?
Want to change your story? Want to drop some worrisome characters and give bigger roles to the people you admire? Then begin by changing the people in the main scenes you repeat as re-runs in your mind. Change the main scenes you choose to act in. To practice, turn the camera of your mind’s eye to the people you admire and the scenes in which you can demonstrate your best temperament and talents. Next? Put your mouth where your mind is now. Praise the traits and actions in others that you want to flourish. You are more likely to pull people with those traits into your life and to paint a picture of yourself as someone who embodies them as well.
Keep it simple. Beginning right now, take two steps toward a more satisfying story line for the rest of your life:
1. Begin seeing every situation as a new opportunity to practice bringing out the better side (temperament and talent) in others. In experiencing that prime moment they are more likely to see and support your best side, and talent.
2. Choose five people who reflect a quality you most cherish in yourself. You may have read about or heard of some those individuals. Others may already be in your life. Keep those heroines and heroes on the top of your mind. Turn to them as your reference points, your guides to your own behavior.
Praise their positive qualities in your silent self-talk and in your conversations with them and with others. In moments of reflection, recognize the upcoming situations where you can demonstrate the cherished temperament or talents they – and you – reflect. Keep your attention on how you can serve each situation by reflecting those qualities.
What will happen? You will become more trustworthy, valuable and attractive as your actions become more positive and congruent. Others will be drawn to that positive side and instinctively emulate it when around you.
Recognize The Miracle Of Mutuality
What’s the biggest miracle you’ll experience by daring to live your most heroic role in life this way? You are more likely to attract the help you most need at any time, often from people you did not know could provide it, and sometimes even before you realized that you needed help.
As you seek out and praise in others the values and talents you most admire, you come to embody those qualities more fully. As you demonstrate those positive traits more often, others are more likely to observe them in you and instinctively react in a positive way to you. Thus you’ve sparked an upward spiral of mutually reinforcing positive behavior with others. That upward spiral leads to trust and camaraderie. The seeds of opportunity, friendship and higher performance with others are most likely to take root through this mutual admiration of each other’s better temperament and talents.
Conversely, when you discuss or otherwise focus on another person’s less attractive temperament or where that person is not talented, you are likely to start a downward spiral in your relationship. As you think about and discuss that person’s weaknesses, even and especially in the spirit of helping him you will become a source of discomfort and then dislike. Because our main gut instinct is to survive, we tend to spiral downward into mutual distrust and antipathy must faster than we spiral up into mutual reinforcement of our most talented sides.
That’s why your most vital step toward a more satisfying life with others is probably the cultivation of this one powerful habit in every situation: First, how can I bring out that other person’s best temperament or enable them to demonstrate their strongest talent?
This is perhaps our straightest path towards becoming the people you love and admire.