By Carl A. Hammerschlag M.D., CPAE
(Dr. Hammerschlag is an internationally recognized psychiatrist, author and healer. He is the only physician to hold the CPAE, Speakers Hall of Fame Award. He can be reached at www.healingdoc.com)
Our job as speakers is to get people’s attention and touch them in a way that leaves them enriched for having heard us. Depending on our orientations, we teach, inspire, motivate, and sometimes change behaviors. Our greatest joy is when an audience member tells us we made a difference in his or her life. To magnify that kind of impact, we have to speak with soul.
What is soul? The soul lives in the worlds of feeling, faith and intuition; it’s synonymous with the human spirit and is what sustains us even through hard times. Soul is what makes you a “mensch,” a person with principle who cares for others and inspires by example.
I have been a physician for 40 years, but I didn’t learn about soul or spirit in medical school. It was only after I came to work with Native Americans that I learned to appreciate the power of the human spirit in keeping us healthy. For 16 years, I was Chief of Psychiatry for the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, an experience that exposed me to traditional healers who found ways to kindle a person’s spirit and help them move beyond their limitations.
In the Navajo language, the word for soul is the same as the word for health, truth, beauty, harmony, and the Great Spirit. The word is “Hozho.” When we speak from that soul place, people hear us differently because they feel our truth. In this age of slick commercialism and salesmanship, there is desperation for that kind of honesty. As speakers, we are not only experts with practiced precision, but passionate people willing to take the risk of being spontaneous. To make such a leap means we also have to be willing to be vulnerable. Don’t be frightened by it. Embrace the vulnerability; it makes you real and soulful. When you come from that place, your audience will embrace you not because of your perfection, but your authenticity. People will remember what you say when you speak the truth of what you feel not just what you know.
My wife Elaine clarified this principle for me one evening, when we were giving our two daughters the requisite sex education lecture. I prepared for this and put together a 20-minute presentation of what I thought was uncompromising brilliance. I wasn’t two minutes into it when my two daughters began to nod off. I would not be denied my time, however, and blathered on for another 15 minutes. When I was finished, I turned to my wife (more as a courtesy then believing she was going to add anything of substance) and asked her if she’d like to say something. Elaine paused for several moments and finally said, “What I know about sex education I can tell you in one sentence.” The girls popped up from their lethargy and, with their hands folded across the chest said, “Oh yeah, what is it?” Elaine said, “If it doesn’t feel good you’re not doing it right.”
Those girls have forgotten everything I ever said that night, but they have never forgotten their mother’s line. That line is actually a metaphor for living a healthy, productive soulful life . . . “If it doesn’t feel good, you’re not doing it right.” If you come only from your head, you will only speak to people’s minds; when you speak from the heart with soul, you can change lives.
Let me give you an example from my own profession. There are 2 million heart patients in the United States who have bypass surgery or angioplasty every year, at a cost of around $30 billion. All these heart patients are told by their doctors that if they don’t change their lifestyles, (i.e., eat healthier foods, smoke and drink less, and exercise more), they’ll be back for surgery in five to seven years, if they make it that long. You would think those facts alone would change their behaviors, but 9 out of 10 of those patients do not change their lifestyles. The fear of death alone is insufficient to change people’s behaviors. The only thing the facts do is remind people of the inevitability of their mortality.
Compare this to the results of Dr. Dean Ornish, the distinguished physician whose program for cardiac patients teaches them what to eat, how to exercise, meditate, build community and connect with others on their healing journey. After a month at his facility, 85% of those patients change their behaviors and do not require repeat surgery.
To impact people’s behavior, you have to speak to hearts not just heads, and this principle is not limited heart patients. Consider the story of Jack Murphy who was the subject of the 1974 feature film Murph the Surf, starring Robert Conrad. Murphy was a legendary surfer, concert violinist, National surfing champion, tennis pro, movie stuntman, circus high tower diver, notorious thief and a convicted murderer. In 1968, he was charged with first-degree murder which he denied committing but was, nevertheless, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
After 19 years, the Florida parole board voted unanimously to parole him because of his exemplary behavior. Bill Glass, the former football star with the Cleveland Browns, founded a prison ministry 35 years ago. Murphy listened to Glass and Hall-of-Famer Roger Staubach talk to inmates about finding God and how it changed their lives. Listening to them, Murphy considered for the first time, the possibility of faith as a way to change his life.
The same man who once sparked one of the biggest riots at Florida State Prison is now, at the age of 68, International Director of Champions for Life. The job takes Murphy into more than 200 prisons a year, where he preaches, consoles, laughs and cries with inmates. Of course, it’s Murphy the con the prisoners want to see, and he gives them a great show. He tells them about the grandest jewel heist in American history. On the night of October 29, 1964, he and accomplices broke into New York’s American Museum of Natural History and stole the J.P. Morgan collection, including the Eagle diamond, the Midnight Sapphire, the DeLong Ruby, and the world’s biggest sapphire, the Star of India, a 563 carat jewel about the size of a racquetball. Murphy was arrested within 48 hours at a hotel where he and his two colleagues had been throwing lavish all-night parties.
Jack Murphy visits the world’s most violent prisons to spread the gospel. Murphy says, education and employment aren’t enough to rehabilitate a criminal. He says, “If you don’t deal with a person’s heart and soul . . . all you’re doing is passing out Band-Aids.” It doesn’t matter how you share your soul — it certainly doesn’t have to be a religious experience — but it has to be your truth. If you are going to change behaviors, you have to let your audiences see in you what they dare to imagine is possible for themselves. You have to be willing to reach deep down inside and share your truth and the passion of your heart, if you expect people to reach down inside themselves and believe that they can move beyond their limitations. Be the change you are trying to create in others, speak with soul.