Most of the people receiving this email have either just opened school for the new school year, or are just about to. For those of you not in the state, we are under a heat advisory here in Connecticut, and with many classrooms without air conditioning, many schools, including my kids’ school, released early today because of the heat.
Knowing that it’s the beginning of the school year, I want to share something suitably inspirational. Here’s my best attempt.
We have all heard or read the phrase “Be the change you want to see in the world,” attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Apparently, and unsurprisingly, according to this story in the New York Times, Gandhi didn’t actually say this. On the one hand, this is a disappointment, as I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it meant. On the other, what he actually said is even better:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
This is demonstrably true. Our feelings and our actions are contagious. A positive person in a group can change the mood of the group within two minutes. Two minutes! It takes longer than that for a kettle to boil.
I read and think a lot about culture, and particularly about the role of leadership in establishing and perpetuating culture. More about that another time. The message here is that everyone has power in making your team, your school, your world a more positive place.
The bonus is that emotional contagion has a ripple effect. The people that you influence during your interactions with them go on to have a positive impact on the people that they, in turn, interact with. This multiplier effect means that your choices about what your words, your deeds, and even your facial expression will touch about a thousand people. If you multiply that based on the number of people getting this letter, that’s about half a million people.
Smile more. Show people that you are paying attention to the work that they do. Practice gratitude. Be generous. Make sure people understand that you are sensitive to what they value. Express optimism. Help somebody. Smile more. Pay a compliment. Be encouraging. Write a thank you note. Listen. Be open to suggestions. Express appreciation. Smile more. Tell the truth. Empathize. Share your hopes. Love life. Ask someone to share what’s going well, then ask ten more people—and, this is really important, when someone shares good news, be enthusiastic in your response. Have faith. Talk about what you like to read, do, or eat. Assume positive intent. Smile more. And as my mother would say, if you can’t say anything good, say nothing.
Some of these things may be hard for some people (I got called out on not smiling enough just yesterday, and I wasn’t particularly nice in response). But if you want your world to be more positive, then you have to be more positive—you have to be the change you want to see in the world, never mind that Gandhi never actually said it. And you should definitely not wait to see what others do—now that you know about emotional contagion, you can see why that could be a mistake.
If you want to read more about the research on which this letter is based, I recommend the books The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, and Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman.
Have a great rest of the week, and a great start of the year! Yours, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106