Marvin G. Knittel Ed.D.

How to Help a Friend

The Story of the Dipper and the Bucket

The easiest way to fill your bucket is to fill someone else's bucket.

Posted Mar 12, 2017

The story of the dipper and the bucket originated in the 1960s with my good friend Dr. Donald Clifton, a psychologist and founder of The Clifton Strength School in Lincoln Nebraska. In every booth of Kings restaurants in Nebraska was a small card containing the story of the dipper and the bucket. Such a simple idea made a great deal of sense to many people.

Dipper and Bucket

Recently someone told me, "Your presentation to our group was very meaningful." That one short sentence validated me. That simple sentence filled my bucket.

On the other hand, if that person would have said, "Your presentation was interesting. It's  too bad you ignored the research of Dr. Smith." That comment would have emptied my bucket.

The easiest way to fill your bucket is to fill someone else's bucket. The unyielding secret of the bucket and the dipper is that when you fill another's bucket it does not take anything out of your own bucket.

How people dip into buckets

Let's explore the different ways people get their dipper's into your bucket.

When a person discounts what I am saying they dip into that my bucket.  For example, I might say, "I like the writings of Gertrude Stein."  If another person says, "I'm surprised you even know about Gertrude Stein." he is dipping into my bucket.

If someone persistently interrupts what I am saying he is dipping into my bucket.

When someone continually finds ways to disagree with what I am saying with comments like, "yes but ….." or "that may be true, however ….." they are dipping into my bucket.

If someone overrides, interrupts, or steals the conversation he is dipping into my bucket.

When my bucket is empty I behave differently than when my bucket is full because I lose some of the excitement of living. I become more concerned about my own feelings than the feelings of other people.

The joy of filling people's buckets

My wife and I have decided to make a positive comment to clerks or "checkers" at grocery stores and other places of business. These are the people who scan the purchases of hundreds of faceless shoppers. We decided that when we pay for our groceries we would make a conscious effort to ask how their day is going or say  something like "I hope your day is going well." It is rewarding to see their faces light up. We come away with a feeling of well-being because in a small way we made a difference.

We have a son with Down syndrome. He teaches us lessons about filling other people's buckets. For example, when he is in a room with strangers he immediately introduces himself one by one by saying, "Hi, my name is Patrick, what is yours?" Patrick feels good about himself. His objective is to make everybody else feel good. He has accomplished what most of us only try to accomplish. He has discovered the secret. By helping others feel good his bucket is full.

What does this all this mean?

It's quite evident that we are in charge of how we see ourselves and other people. We can be passive and wait till someone deliberately fills our bucket or we can be proactive and go about the business of filling other people's buckets knowing it's the most efficient way to fill our own buckets.

I challenge you to make a commitment to fill as many buckets as you can. Your reward will be the joy seen on the faces of complete strangers. And, by the way, you may come away with a full bucket.

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I am professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Kearney where for 30 years I taught classes in counseling theories, counseling methods, group counseling, practicum, and psychodrama. In addition to my current book, One Hand Clapping  (2015) I wrote Counseling and Drama: Psychodrama A' Deux in (2009) which was translated into Mandarin and published in Taiwan in 2013. I welcome your comments.