The answers to who you are
Our Beloved Family:
It is an honor to have been asked to give the commencement speech for this year’s graduating class of medical doctors at Western University of Health Sciences on May 24th. As I was reflecting on what to care share with the students that will be sitting exactly where I was sitting nearly a couple of decades ago, I came across an inspirational speech that I wanted to share with you. It’s from Harvard University’s dean of the Graduate School of Education, James Ryan, and focuses on the five essential questions of life. Although it’s from the 2016 Harvard University commencement, as memorable graduation speeches go, it’s timeless in its content and emphasizes some essential principles I recommend to my patients every day to create a happy, fulfilling life, especially the bonus question at the end.
The first question we should ask ourselves throughout life is, “Wait, what?” It’s the same question teenagers often ask after you’ve told them to do something like clean their room or mow the lawn, usually accompanied by a blank stare.
“Wait, what?” is really a request for clarification or what I refer to as perception checking. It’s pausing and asking for more information before one moves forward. It’s the same question we need to ask before drawing conclusions and especially before making decisions. It’s important to practice inquiry before advocacy, to really understand something before we advocate for or against it. “Wait, what?” is a good way to slow down and make sure we really understand what we’re doing and the potential outcome. This is why the tagline for the nonprofit organization Sherry and I started, the Love Button Global Movement, is #pauseandlove. When we stop rushing around and become present right where we are, we create an opening where we can choose to share our love with someone around us.
The second question is, “I wonder why / if?” “I wonder why” is what keeps us curious about and engaged with the world. Being inquisitive is a big part of feeling alive and solving problems. This naturally leads to asking, “I wonder if”, which generates possible ways of not only improving your own life, but helping address the problems of the world around you. I wonder why there are so many homeless people in this city and if there is a way to provide shelter for all of them.
The third question is, “Couldn’t we at least…?” This question creates common ground among people during disagreements and helps them get unstuck by creating a consensus. Couldn’t we at least agree that we all want to solve the homeless problem, even though we’re committed to different strategies? This question is also a great motivator, a way to get groups moving in a particular direction, even when the exact solution isn’t in sight yet.
Truly, there is no greater gift in life than to really know who you are.
The fourth question is, “How can I help?” One of the most basic human instincts is to help others, but how we help is just as important as that we do help. By asking the person in need to tell you how you can help, you’re asking for direction in the way of assistance that will have the greatest impact. Remember that you don’t have to fix the entire situation or problem. Too many people don’t lend a hand because it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by certain situations, especially national or worldwide problems, and either don’t know where to start or feel their individual effort won’t make a difference. All you have to do is your part. When enough people do their part, the whole problem will eventually be solved.
The fifth question is, “What truly matters to me?” The answer(s) helps you get to the heart of your beliefs and convictions. You crystallize the principles that define you and what you’re really about. The answer(s) will inform all the previous life questions and drive every decision you make.
“Wait, what?” is at the root of all understanding. “I wonder why / if?” inspires curiosity and possible solutions. “Couldn’t we at least…” is the beginning of making progress. “How can I help?” is the foundation of good relationships, and “What truly matters to me?” helps you understand who you are. Regularly asking yourself these questions throughout life puts you in the perfect position to answer the bonus question: “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?”
This question comes from a poem by Raymond Carver, called “Late Fragments”. The key part of this question is the “even so”. While acknowledging that the human experience is full of pain and loss, it’s asking if you had a full and satisfying life in spite of it. When you ask yourself the five essential questions throughout life and make your decisions based on what you discover, you’ll certainly be able to provide the right answer to the bonus question, which is, “I did.”
The poem asks, “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so,” and then continues: “I did. / And what did you want? / To call myself beloved. To feel beloved on the earth.” The word beloved not only means dearly loved, but cherished. The ancient Greek aphorism commands us to Know Thyself. Truly, there is no greater gift in life than to really know who you are. That’s what the journey is all about, to reveal us to ourselves. The five essential questions of life are a powerful way to do that, and when we find out who we really are, it’s impossible not to love the person we’ve discovered… and self-love is at the root of all healing.
Please continue reading to join Drs. Sadeghi & Sami in exploring the emotional anchors of chronic disease.
Light, Love, & Clarity in the Month Ahead,
Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami