Heart key

Photo by Yle is dreaming on Flickr

In my life, I spend a lot of energy thinking about how others could be different.

I dream about how I'd like others to respond to me, hear me, treat me, and - while I'm at it - treat each other - differently.

Of course, in theory, I wholeheartedly agree with the oft cited Gandhi quote "Be the change you want to see in the world." *

Yet, when I remind myself that modeling is the most powerful way to create a shift in those around me, it tends to get translated - inside of me - into self-directives such as "From now on, when the kids are upset, respond with empathy" or "When triggered, pause before you speak."

Inevitably, because these are phrased (to myself) as demands, my organism rebels against them (after all, we all want to have choice and freedom) and I am back to wishing my son, husband, daughter, WHOEVER, would make it easier for me to respond "patiently" by being different!

Shockingly (!), having a clear vision of "the change I want to see in the world" rather than a clear vision of how I can BE the change - brings me no closer to having the quality of relationships for which I long.

And it is no wonder. Research with couples and lessons from divorce mediation have shown that there is one simple, essential question that can open the door to the kind of love you want to have.

The simple question is:

What kind of person do I want to be?

More specifically:

What kind of partner do I want to be?

What kind of parent do I want to be?

What kind of friend do I want to be?

What kind of community member do I want to be?

For me, asking the question this way is not merely about "linguistics" - for it is this phrasing that shifts my focus from behavioral strategies ("be more patient" "give more empathy") to powerful intentions such as:

"I want to be a parent who sees the beauty in my kids", "I want to be a partner who appreciates the time we have together", "I want to be a friend who listens with openness" and "I want to be a community member who helps things grow."

This shift from ACTION to INTENTION helps me connect to my HEART, a place from which all things are possible - and from which my actions then flow in ways that inevitably bring more love into my life.

I still spend more time than I'd like living in the land of "why can't others..." Yet, when I do remember to pause and ask myself the Magic Question, things seem to shift almost - well - magically.


* Apparently, the origins of the Gandhi quote are in dispute. I'm still a big fan of the concept, though, whether a senior or junior Gandhi said it.

"Magic Question" CAVEAT: If You Fear for Your Safety

The Magic Question is intended as a way to help open the door to self-connection for those who want to criticize less and love more. It is NOT intended as advice for people who feel unsafe in their relationships. 

If you fear your partner, if you feel like you have to walk on eggshells - constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up-you may be in a what is considered an "abusive" relationship. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

If this might be happening to you, I urge you to find a way to increase your safety and that of your kids, if relevant. If you are not sure, you can read more online. If you live in the U.S. and need help getting away, call the Domestic Violence hotline (1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)) or your local shelter. If you are in immediate danger of being hurt, please call 911.  If you live outside the U.S., international resources can be found at the bottom of this page.


About the Author

Elaine Shpungin Ph.D.

Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D., is the director of the University of Illinois Psychological Services Center.

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