Dawson Church answers the question:
What is the nicest thing a non-family member has ever done for you?
Phil, that question is a profound one, and one I recommend all of us ask ourselves because you asking the question prompted me to think about everything everyone's ever done for me, which was nice, and that turned out to be thousands of things. So all of us, when we ask that question, to be full of gratitude for the people who are just out of the blue, out of the kindness of their hearts, out of their own self-love, share things with us.
As I was having to undertake the very difficult task of ranking them and then picking one out of the thousands, I picked one that I think was powerful for me because it was early in my life. There was a man called Eric who was a friend of my father's. When I was in high school, Eric gave our family the money to rescue me from the miserable public school I was in and put me in a private school. Eric's sons... he had two adopted sons and one natural son... his boys had all gone to private schools. He could see I was really struggling in public school. I wasn't doing very well. I had a lot of problems growing up and a lot of family problems, a lot of personal problems. So I was just... in no way was I thriving.
He helped me move to a much better school, a public school, where I was exposed to bigger ideas, bigger worldviews, much nicer people. That really set me on a new path and made me start to realize I actually had sparks of potential inside of me. Before, in the public school, I was kind of nobody and beaten up and miserable and failing. I just was headed for a life of being a nonentity. I never could have aspired to be a bestselling author or accomplishing much in the world. Eric's giving my parents that money and then paying for me to go to that private school in high school made a huge difference.
I also learned something about generosity then. Now I know that all kindness is in fact kindness to ourselves. Kindness we express toward others is projected self-kindness — and also criticism and blame and anger toward others is all projected self-criticism, well, virtually all projected self-criticism. I remember somebody watching my wife and I interact with each other a few years ago. This observer said, "The two of you, you and your wife, you are really nice to each other." I thought, Well, it's true, but it's also projected self-love. We love ourselves, are kind to ourselves. It's natural to be kind to somebody beyond yourself.
This man Eric had a history of philanthropy. He had given a lot of money to various causes. He had two adopted sons as well as his natural son, and he made sure he treated the two adopted sons equally. So when one boy got a bicycle, the other two boys got a bicycle as well. He always was very even-handed. But as it happened, one of those two adopted boys began to drink alcohol in high school and eventually became a drug addict and was in and out of rehab and out of jail. So some of Eric's philanthropic endeavors turned out not very well, and this boy who became an addict was a real source of anguish for Eric and his wife.
Eric though didn't let that deter him. He kept on giving. He kept on doing good even though some of his experiments turned out not very well for him. That's the answer to me. We do these things for others obstensibly, we do them for ourselves really — and every act of kindness toward other people that I do is really an act of kindness toward myself, an act of love, an act of self-care as well.
I learned so much through that and it's affected my whole subsequent career. Now I have a large nonprofit — we work with over 20,000 veterans with PTSD over the past decade, offering them free treatment; we've seen nine out of 10 of them recover from their PTSD symptoms. We've done a lot both in research and treatment to help move the needle. I've written several bestselling science books — I love science; it's full of answers for us. I do all these extra little things, and yet they're just extensions of my own growth, my own self-discovery.
I just so learned from Eric that all of these ways in which we are publicly and toward other people are reflections of how we are privately toward ourselves. The big lesson there is love yourself, love yourself unconditionally, live exuberantly. Don't let the setbacks set you back and just be generous with your information, your money, your time, your love. It pays off dividends. Thank you.
Dawson Church, PhD is an award-winning author whose bestselling book, The Genie in Your Genes, has been hailed by reviewers as a breakthrough in our understanding of the link between emotions and genetics. His most recent book is Bliss Brain: The Neuroscience of Remodeling Your Brain for Resilience, Creativity, and Joy.
Dawson founded the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare to study and implement promising evidence-based psychological and medical techniques. His groundbreaking research has been published in prestigious scientific journals. He’s the editor of Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, a peer-reviewed professional journal, and a blogger for HuffPost. He shares how to apply the breakthroughs of energy psychology to health and athletic performance through EFT Universe, one of the largest alternative medicine sites on the web.