Chapter 1 of Powerful Peace: “Hate”

Are you new to this site? Welcome to our #6weeks campaign to share “Powerful Peace; A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War!” This has become an annual tradition since our publication on the 4th of July, 2012; I’ll hang every chapter in the book, one each day of this campaign, until you see the entire book wrapping up on Christmas Eve. We want to share the concepts—which many readers have called life-changing. I recommend you click in to day one, beginning with the Preface posted on November 10th, so you can read up from the beginning. Again, welcome! -Rob DuBois

SECTION I of Powerful Peace


The Physical


Food before fun

Abraham Maslow taught that if a person lacks satisfaction of basic survival needs, she will be incapable of working at a higher, cooperative level, even if it’s in her own best interests. It is difficult to be gracious when starving, or hurting. Cyclical and escalating conflict over meager resources is one by-product of desperation. Since lashing out produces further hurt and increased desperation, the cycle is very difficult to break—as we are witnessing around the world.

An empty belly has no ears.
Proverb attributed to China, Haiti, Senegal et al



September 11, 2001

The history of violent conflict traces back in many oral traditions to the very first humans. This opening chapter offers a first-hand account of one of the most hate-based and hate-producing events of modern history. Close the book for a moment, and take a second look at the cover. The number in the bottom-right corner of my photo is the original date stamp of that shot, taken while training Arab SEALs at their base in the Middle East. It was exactly seven days before September 11, 2001. And it was exactly seven days after my wife and children flew out of Boston on a flight number that two weeks later would be incinerated and immortalized in fire and blood. Yes, friends…I am familiar with hate.

In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon.
What we loathe, we graft into our very soul.
Mary Renault

RobshootTeammate Shaun Marriott and I perfect the art of force application. (Note brass shell ejecting above scope.)

My American SEAL platoon and our Arab SEAL hosts watched in living color on satellite television as the second plane dissolved into the second of the Twin Towers. It was approaching evening where we were, several months into a deployment to the Persian Gulf. We sat frozen, burning in silent rage, staring as nearly twenty deluded murderers exploited the most advanced technology to carry out the most primitive evil. Having slashed women to death with razor knives, these “men” committed suicide, proving they were brave enough and strong enough to kill thousands of innocents—among them unsuspecting office workers, little old ladies, and infants.

These murderers called themselves “warriors.”

Had those cowardly bastards chosen to face our little international group, man to man, 9/11 would have turned out differently.

We were all naval commandos in that room, some American, others the “local nationals” we had been sent to train. Ironically painful and poignant, we had been teaching our hosts skills that would make them better at killing terrorists. Yet not one of us could lift a finger to prevent what was happening in the United States.

As we sat together in that remote Middle Eastern barracks, each was very much alone with his thoughts. The Americans thought of loved ones and Teammates a world away. My Arab friends thought of…well, I hope to one day share another cup of tea and ask them. (As you may imagine, things got a little busy during the days that followed. Within weeks, I would be conducting reconnaissance for the invasion of Afghanistan.)

There we all were. Nearly twenty Arabs and Americans, living together in those barracks; nearly twenty Arabs, dying together in dispersed teams of terrorist hijackers. Had those cowardly bastards chosen to face our little international group, man to man, 9/11 would have turned out differently. They wouldn’t have had to work so hard to make their way to hell, for one thing. At our hands, hell would have come up roaring to greet them.

And three thousand gentle, innocent souls would still be alive with their families.

Two Tuesdays earlier, my wife and children had flown from Boston to California, just as a plane I had watched disintegrate had been scheduled to do.

Not one word was spoken for hours during the spectacle. If one of the local SEALs had laughed or expressed any satisfaction in what we were witnessing, I believe I would have killed him on the spot. This is not a boast. It’s a confession, a shameful admission. I’m very ashamed it’s true. These were my friends, but we were so choked with hurt; we were so thirsty for revenge.

Here was a bitterly painful sense of helplessness, for some of the most dangerous men on earth. We were supposed to be the protectors of our countrymen. Each December Seventh at the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Team in Hawaii, in fact, we swam the five miles around Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island. Commemorating the original Day of Infamy in 1941, this ceremony sent the message that hostile actors were welcome to attack again if they wished…we would be ready this time.

Instead, in September sixty years later, we were on the wrong side of the planet.

We were supposed to be the ones who would sacrifice all so fellow citizens could sleep safe in their beds at night. Yet we would sleep through that night with troubled dreams, safe in our own beds, while thousands of innocents under our protection suffered and died in a crushing, inescapable nightmare.

In addition, within our platoon I had the unique awareness that only two Tuesdays earlier, my wife and children had flown from Boston to California, just as a plane I had watched disintegrate had been scheduled to do. Later, my wife would tell me a strange detail. During the early part of their flight on August 28th, a man of apparent Middle Eastern descent had been roaming the cabin and studying the passenger seating, crew stations, wings and more. He had been carrying an Arabic language newspaper. She wrote it off as unreasonable suspicion on her part, but remained troubled by his intense focus on surveying the airplane…especially the wings. Of course, this may have all been coincidence.

It is no coincidence, however, that I have a personal understanding of hatred. That’s the first thing I want you to understand.

Unlike my loved ones sobbing through a tortured morning rush hour in the United States, I sat among Arab friends and allies in the Middle East and watched 9/11 unfold. Some in my mixed group of highly trained commandos may have empathized with the grievances of the al Qaeda (AQ) terrorists piloting those improvised cruise missiles.

If that last statement strains your comfort level, I’m satisfied. Peacemaking is not the fluffy stuff of rainbows and unicorns. It is not exclusive to well-intentioned activists shouting “Ban War!” Peacemaking is the right—and the burden—of all of us, and it sometimes includes the use of force. Without just war, Hitler’s quest would have destroyed millions more. Genuine conflict reduction requires the capacity and willingness to strike, combined with a determined restraint and the guts to stare straight into the face of hate…and then choose a reasoned response.

Yes, some of my friends did (and do) empathize with the grievances AQ uses to justify hijacking airplanes. Note the careful use of this phrase “empathize with the grievances.” I know none of our Arab partners in that host platoon were radicalized terrorists. If one had been, he would have exploited our trust and killed us while we slept. The symbolic value of slaughtering a few American SEALs would have been irresistible. As demonstrated by the 9/11 hijackers, even sacrificing his own life to accomplish this would have been acceptable to an extremist with an opportunity.

All too often, hatred is so intense that a participant will choose personal suffering over personal peace as the price required to cause his adversary pain.

This may be difficult to reconcile according to our ordinary sense of reality, but we are in extraordinary times. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary effort. If we have the courage to consider the Other’s reality, empathy with grievances is possible and productive.

Here’s one poorly hidden elephant in the room:  Unresolved grievances and the anxieties they compel keep solutions at arm’s length. In many of the countries I’ve visited around the Middle East, the horror of Palestinian children killed in Israeli attacks is advertised widely and discussed passionately. For Israelis, on the other hand, the constant threat of devastating Palestinian rocket and suicide bomber attacks is a deep and chronic pain that can make reasoned negotiation seem unreasonable. Neither side will ever run out of iron-clad reasons to avenge the pain it has suffered; nor will either side ever accept its own marginalization or elimination, so all the struggle and rhetoric in pursuit of dominance for either extreme can only serve to prolong the suffering of innocents within both populations.

Many participants can sense this. Isn’t it time many more admitted it? Isn’t it time both parties, with their thoughts on their children, stared straight into the face of hate and said “Enough?”

As mentioned earlier, actor/director Don Cheadle and humanitarian John Prendergast have done exactly that in another abscess of raging human conflict in another part of the world. You’ll read about their “Enough Project” and book, The Enough Moment, in chapter 25 on Commonality.

Only the absolute cessation of violence allows space to work through underlying issues and pursue stability and reconciliation to benefit both parties. Yet all too often, hatred is so intense that a participant will choose personal suffering over personal peace as the price required to cause his adversary pain.

Until squabbling siblings, barroom brawlers or aggressing armies establish at least a cold truce, until the participants can “cause a pause,” the cycle of retaliatory violence continues to escalate and solutions fly ever further from reality…and more innocents suffer for our folly. At the most basic level there is no such thing as a corporation, an army, a nation, or even the book club where you may be reading this—each of these entities is nothing more than a collection of individual human beings in willing cooperation, backed up in some cases by lists which are also nothing more than shared understandings between individuals.

Only those who consciously choose and act can improve conditions for all of us.

The human is the lowest common denominator, from the smallest to the greatest social organization we have ever established. This universal individuality, to be revisited later on in the sections on Heart and Soul, is the reason peace cannot spread except by individual choices and actions…like yours. Understanding and peace don’t come about by some mysterious accident while we squabble over crumbs. Boardroom, bedroom and battlefield are universally populated only by individual human beings, and only those who consciously choose and act can improve conditions for all of us.

The solution lies not at but between the extremes. Only here can balance—and peace for those under your care—be found.


Don’t want to wait #6weeks to read the whole book,
or want to get your signed gift copies for the holidays?
Click here to go straight to our book ordering page.

Unique opportunity in January: One-day DC workshop on building your own Red Team!

Always wanted to know more about Red Teams, but were afraid to ask? How about spending a full day learning how to build your own from the ground up, from one of the most experienced Red Team leaders around?


This is a quick-turn public service announcement to get the word out on a never-before-seen opportunity. My friend Jeffrey Carr, founder of the Suits and Spooks nationwide security conference series, has asked me to run a full-day seminar for security officers, company leaders and other interested individuals on the nuts and bolts of building a Red Team right in the heart of your organization.

I can promise you a unique and experience. This will be a fast-mover—one month from today in Washington, DC, I’m going to present a distillation of my years conducting and leading Red Team operations worldwide…in one 9-hour session. You and/or your security representative will be taught from the ground up on everything RT: practical applications and the high value your own Red Team can bring; essential and optional components of an RT; RT staffing and optimizing; major fails of misunderstanding an RT’s purpose, and more.

Following instruction, participants will be assigned to competing Red Team mission cells and apply their newfound skills to attack a real-world hard target…and in this game, not everyone gets a trophy! When they eventually return to your organization, they will be fully equipped and motivated to raise your team’s security posture to all-new levels.

Click here to learn more:

Winding UP for this weekend’s “Safening” seminar: Know Yourself

This just out at SEAL of Peace FB Page (


In case you haven’t gotten the memo yet (TPS Reports?) we’re sending this update on the buildup to this weekend’s first Safening seminar, “Know Yourself!” An awesome range of awesome people are signing up, including Crossfitters, academics, homemakers and humanitarians.

They’ll get their first “homework” PDF workbooks tonight, in preparation for Saturday’s big kickoff. We’ll be doing advance work, workshopping during each event, and as much Q&A as it takes for everyone to build their own, customized security profile.

Remember too that everyone registering for the discounted bundle of three seminars is receiving a signed copy of Rob DuBois’ “Powerful Peace; A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War.”

Couldn’t attend Safening because it was on a weekday? We’ve moved it to Saturdays!

(Check out the additional cool option at the bottom.)

Many of you have written to question the scheduling for our imminent Safening seminar series. The three sessions had originally been planned for Wednesdays at 7:00pm Eastern, but it seems that sits right in the middle of a lot of families’ agendas from Coast to Coast. So with the gracious permission of all who had already registered, we have rescheduled “Know Yourself,” “Know Your Enemy,” and “Win 100 Battles” to the next three Saturdays at 12:00 noon EST!

Everyone who was previously unable to join us can now go to and get registered for this Saturday Safening Seminar Series (this works better than “Wednesday” for alliteration purposes, too). Please pass the word to everyone you know who had been interested, and let’s blow up the energy!

Coolest of all: we want to stretch each of these growing and safening events to the very limit…which happens to be 100 participants. To stimulate that, we’re also sending a free, signed copy of Powerful Peace to every individual who signs up for the discounted “bundle all three” deal! Much of the material is based upon principles also unpacked in the book, so it only makes sense for us to share the literature and further expand your comprehension from the workshops.

Sharing Red Team concepts

I didn’t develop the “Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War” by theorizing in a La-Z-Boy. I don’t talk about this much, but I have spent years conducting and leading Red Team operations worldwide…to “attack” U.S. interests, discover their fatal vulnerabilities, and provide mitigation recommendations. I still do it, in fact, although my clients today are corporate instead of government.

So this is a primary source for the roots-of-conflict concepts you read in Powerful Peace. Besides working with foreign populations in 30+ countries, I’ve lived in our enemies’ minds…and looked out through their eyes.

And while I tend to focus on the “applied smart power” aspect of cultural competency and conflict resolution, the softer and preventive skills of SEAL of Peace Consulting, we’re seeing increasing demand for more security and Red Team instruction. At January’s “Suits and Spooks” conference in DC, for example, I’ll be running an unprecedented full-day workshop to teach corporate security managers to build and operate their own Red Teams.

And a couple weeks from now, I will begin an online seminar series entitled “Safening.” I want you and yours to be safe; I want you to safen your home and your work. Straight from my experience in counterterrorism and antiterrorism, we’ll do working sessions on “Know Thyself” and “Know Thy Enemy,” and I’ll teach you the basics on understanding your full spectrum of threats and protections.

So watch our sites ( and My team will kick off signup announcements tomorrow, and we’ll get the Safening going!
Give peace of mind this season.

Conclusion: Hope

It has been a genuine honor and privilege to walk through Powerful Peace with you to this point. I hope this journey has been more than enjoyable for you…I hope it’s been meaningful. And I hope you will seriously consider my request to let this be the beginning of dialogue, not the end of a book. I hope it will be the beginning of some small changes you choose to raise the quality of your life, and the lives of those you encounter.

While there’s breath, there’s hope. What, if anything, will you do with the gifts you’ve been given?




In the end, we find ourselves in the beginning. The brief introduction that is this book is only the first taste of the potential of Powerful Peace. If and how balanced peacemaking continues is up to you and me, together. Powerful Peace will grow through reading, and sharing, and doing…or it will not grow at all.

I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others….
All that lasts is what you pass on.
The rest is smoke and mirrors.
Stephen King

Allem and I

This is Allem, a contract cleaner from Bangladesh. He took great care of us in Iraq.
Allem doesn’t chase after glory and excitement, yet he’s a real hero to me because he does what it takes
to provide for his family. (Pay no mind to the bandage on my brow—it was from a tragic soccer accident.)

I promised you up front that we would examine the “reactive and sometimes unnecessary roots of hate,” and that you would come to better understand how “those roots strangle all involved.” Have we done that? I hope so. I hope at least one or two of the dozens of stories in Powerful Peace have helped you look at conflict differently. Most bonfires begin with a tiny spark, so let us let peace “go viral.” And the highest praise I’ve ever heard on these concepts came from my editor’s wife, Virginia, when she first told him, “I never thought of it that way before.”

We’ve also explored the paradox of “necessary violence” with “ruthless restraint,” and the principle that balancing courage with compassion applies in the boardroom, in the bedroom, and on the battlefield. I’d like to wind down this book with a last word, one of my favorites, which you may have noticed tucked here and there throughout the chapters: Hope.

One of my many friends from the wider world is a highly-placed officer in the Iraqi Army. Khudaier and I sometimes chatted over fruit juice on the way ahead in Iraq. Like many of his peers, he has invaluable insight on problems and solutions regarding the struggle. Also like many of his peers, his recommendations (the other-than-combat efforts we all need for a long-term “win”) sometimes compete with more immediate U.S./Western needs for force protection and combat readiness. Yet he and I contend that this apparent “competition” between national and international resources and goals is not as real as is imagined…or rather, is not imagined. I contend that “our” way ahead as a species depends less on struggling over crusts and more on exercising all our imagination muscles to make more pie.

He insisted, and I agreed, that more trust between our forces was urgently needed to improve our effectiveness. Yet hope, we concluded, is the most urgent commodity we can offer to the men and women of that ancient, noble and profoundly historic land. There are many other essential ingredients as described throughout Powerful Peace; most of them are merely steps along the path to hope.

Another friend, Jamal, lost his family home, lifelong friends and fiancée when he was identified as an American supporter. He also lost hope, although when I first met him, his confidence was unshakeable. Barely out of his teens, Jamal had left a university computer science program and hired on to interpret Arabic for U.S. forces. I asked him why he had been willing to leave the sure thing of school to enter the dangerous world of military operations. He said he had a vision for his country. He had a beautiful girlfriend, and they were in love. She would become his wife once he had enough money. And once “we” (Coalition and Iraqis) inevitably stabilized the internal strife, his country would need strong, intelligent people to step forward and lead it to prosperity. Wise beyond his years, he understood that those who were in the proper positions when stability arrived would be well-placed to assume those leadership roles. He would become a Big Man and make a difference for the people of his nation.

Jamal and other interpreters were sometimes unnecessarily kept waiting outside the ECP guard shack for several hours while their credentials were “verified” by U.S. soldiers, some of whom were literally still in their teens. (These interpreters all carried official photo identification cards, but “slow rolling” a customer is the questionable indulgence of petty tyrants the world over.) During the same assignment I met weekly with another Iraqi general officer who repeatedly expressed frustration that “your men are disrespecting my officers.” Jamal’s was not an isolated case.

(You have to understand that I’m not indicting all American soldiers here. American soldiers are Americans, like me, and I’m damn proud of my country and my countrymen. I also understand that we’re not perfect. Sadly, the kids who helped this unfortunate situation go badly probably only did what they’d been taught by older soldiers…who had learned from others before that. And the problem of disrespect to foreigners is by no means limited to U.S. forces. I’ve personally been disrespected by some of the best; in Russia, Thailand, Kuwait and a couple dozen other nations. But remember—we can only change what we control, and we only control ourselves.)

During the time Jamal and I were at that installation, local insurgents would periodically cruise by with the traffic to scope out the gates; on one of these passes, inevitably, one of the neighbor boys recognized Jamal as he sat outside the entrance for hours. Word got back to the insurgents in the neighborhood. His father received an anonymous phone call that their home would be firebombed to kill Jamal’s younger siblings. The father fled with his family.

Jamal’s future father-in-law heard next, and declared that his daughter would never marry a traitorous “pig” who worked for the invaders. Jamal’s own childhood friends shunned him on his final visit home, so he only learned of his imminent danger through a remote grapevine.

It saddens me almost to tears to remember that promising young man, with such incredible talent, hope and energy; and the hopeless, vacant young man who returned to our base after that weekend. In our final conversation before I moved to another location in Iraq, I half-jokingly asked him, “You’re not going to become an insurgent, are you?”

He paused, then said quietly, “I don’t know.”

This was a preventable disaster in one young person’s life. Not all can be avoided, of course. Automobiles and airplanes will continue to crash. Disease will continue to strike. But if I can get across only one idea through all of this, it would be that we can easily harm others through minor, selfish choices. A little thought goes a long way, even if it’s only to reduce potential backlash against ourselves.

Jamal had lost hope through a radically narrowed range of possibilities for his future, but I believe hope can be restored as long as we draw breath. Our species has survived plague, famine, barbarian hordes, Crusades, and World Wars. I imagine it has sometimes been difficult to hold onto hope. Yet it survives, and it can be revived, for some of the hundreds, thousands, and millions of decent people who can’t take their children to the market with them for fear of car bombs…or simply can’t feed their children because they can’t afford food. At the purely individual level, I want women who feel hopelessly trapped in abusive relationships to rediscover hope, as well as young people who feel too fat or too skinny to be of any worth. The same goes for men of the “wrong” race or class in societies that traditionally suppress their opportunities. In my own selfish way, I want human beings to be valued universally. I’m telling you now: this will bring a corresponding element of security. The world has changed in many, many ways. Shame on us if we don’t keep up with history, look at one another in the best light possible, and invite the best from all. Each individual’s increase benefits the whole. Shame on us if we participate in reducing ourselves.

Hope is something that can be given, although it can never be forced. A person cannot be “convinced” of something against his will. Hope can be inspired, by example, as when the United States of America still inspires the hope of a better life for millions who live in tragic poverty or lawlessness. Hope can be revealed, in the genuine, consistent effort of outreach from those who have it to those who don’t. Once we grasp hope firmly in our hands, we begin to perceive the extraordinary future we can create.

The energy of hope can produce startling results. In the book Let’s Roll (Tyndale House Publishers, 2002), we read of true heroes, doomed passengers on a hijacked aircraft on September 11, 2001. They knew something very bad was going to happen with their plane. They realized there might not be anything they could do about it…but they hoped they could. They hoped they could, and they acted.

These heroes saw no gain in hiding amid the herd and praying not to be the next one culled. They dared to act in the hope of stopping terrorists with their own hands. They succeeded. Powered by this hope, they saved hundreds or thousands of other innocent lives. They died, yes—they successfully stopped terrorists and they still died, because fighting to defend involves daring and risk; some always pay the price for the rest.

Will you dare to hope with me? Will you dare to question your assumptions about people in the next house, or on the next continent? I also said in the front of the book that it’s intended to offer a voice to all, to open a dialogue. That dialogue begins among the Peace Hawks, which you can join (no costs) at You get your voice there, whether you’re sitting in Baghdad, Paris, Capetown, or with me in Washington, DC. As a Peace Hawk, you’ll learn about and join with organizations like the Middle East Peace project at, where Eyal Raviv and our friends host an ongoing dialogue among all the stakeholders of the Israel-Palestine crisis. Engagement matters. They prove it in real time. We engaged citizens will no longer sit by and wait for heads of state to solve all the problems within or between our societies. Here’s a dirty little secret: they can’t.

As a Peace Hawk, you’ll also be able to link to the “Enough Project” of John Prendergast and Don Cheadle, at Click in to look around at the stories from film superstars as well as compassion superstars – see where you can make a difference!

Hope is our energy; imagination and action are our tools. Let these closing words be the opening salvo on your lifelong contribution to practical peace—step away from the sofa and call up a friend to offer some heartfelt Dignity and Respect, or reflect on what sections of Powerful Peace struck you most…and what it is inside you that may have motivated this response. You might even start your own reading group, or a local chapter of Peace Hawks, to spread the ideas in your community. There are 48 topical chapters in the book, not counting this one on Hope. How would you like to organize a study of one topic each week throughout the year with your church, mosque, temple or coffee clutch?

Before his private world imploded, Jamal made one other comment that will stay with me forever: “If more Americans thought like you, there’d be less wars in the world.” Well, I doubt I’ll actually ever prevent a war, but I do believe the concepts of Powerful Peace can empower each of us to reduce conflict within the scope of our own authority and influence. Of course this goes for my American friends, with our substantial international impact, and also to my Afghan, British, Canadian, French, Iraqi, Jordanian, Kenyan, Russian, Uzbek, Venezuelan and other friends as well. Together we have the power to make a difference. Say it with me: we have the power to make a difference. This is the start of something big.

Finally: in the beginning, I asked that you “not keep this book.” I asked you to “give it away—perhaps to a young person just setting out to make a mark in the world, or to your neighbor, or to a soldier trying to make sense of his painful experiences…perhaps to your senator at her next public event.”

I really mean that. If these ideas make sense to you, will you share them with others? They say selling a book is much more about word-of-mouth than about formal advertising; I say selling an idea is even more dependent on each one reaching one. If every reader shared this book just one time, it would double the spread of this message around the world. It will take willing and active individuals to make meaningful change and protect all our children. I promise you, I’ll keep trying. Will you accept the challenge and do the same?

I dare you to.


NOTE: Now that you’ve reached the end of this part of the Powerful Peace journey, don’t forget that you can order hard copies to read and share with friends, loved ones…and in some cases, enemies. Just click in to

Chapter 47: You can create your future…literally

So what does “applying” smart power look like? Try the below scenario on for size and see if you can’t recognize the significant power in the smallest choices. You have some direct, literal control over your destiny.




Co-create your world

In one lifetime, at different moments, I’ve been hurt physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. A lot of that hurting, much to my dismay, came in the form of reactionsreactions from others or from the natural environmentto choices I had made. This is the proverbial burnt hand caused by touching a hot stove. Sometimes I had been aware of those potential consequences, and on some occasions I was blissfully ignorant beforehand…most of the time I knew better.
It may be the same with you.

If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.
Maya Angelou

Imagine that I’m standing at the train station for a day trip. Imagine I’m carrying an overcoat, umbrella, satchel and coffee. I’m feeling rushed because I missed the first train, so when the next arrives and the doors slide open I am very eager to board. Another man is also trying to hurry on, beside me.


We’re going to diverge for two possible alternative scenarios and explore the two ways I may choose to literally create my immediate future.

Scenario A: I shoulder past the man trying to board in front of me, successfully winning the right of way to get on first. With a suitably disdainful glance back at my defeated opponent, I ascend the steps and assume my rightful position in a choice seat.

I fail to notice when the $50 ticket slips from my overloaded hand and flutters to the platform….

Scenario B: I begin to board, but hold back in order to make way for this other fellow who’s obviously also in a big hurry. In the moment he realizes I’m weighed down with stuff, he pauses and insists I go ahead. I gratefully proceed up the steps and settle into a good seat.

I fail to notice when the $50 ticket slips from my overloaded hand and flutters to the platform….


Now let’s rejoin our story in progress and examine the possible outcomes of these two choices.

In Scenario A, my fellow traveler happened to notice the ticket fall from my hand. With a malevolent grin, he smoothly kicks my ticket off the platform to be lost on the tracks below. As he passes my seat, his delirious smile makes me seriously wonder about his state of mind.

In Scenario B, my fellow traveler happened to notice the ticket fall from my hand. My new friend snatches up the ticket I dropped and heads straight for me. “Hey, buddy, you dropped this. Better be more careful,” he says with a genuine smile. I’m spared a serious hassle. I might have been charged again, to buy a new ticket on the train; I might not have had the funds available and been removed at the next stop; I might have spilled coffee all over myself in a frantic search of my belongings (heed the voice of experience). These were prevented because I took a moment to be considerate of another.

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler are co-authors of Connected; How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything you Feel, Think, and Do (Little, Brown and Company, 2009). What impressed me most about Connected is their assertion:

“The great project of the twenty-first century—understanding how the whole of humanity comes to be greater than the sum of its parts—is just beginning. Like an awakening child, the human superorganism is becoming self-aware, and this will surely help us to achieve our goals. But the greatest gift of this awareness will be the sheer joy of self-discovery and the realization that to truly know ourselves, we must first understand how and why we are all connected.”

Although my train platform scenario is a fictitious exercise of imagination, most of us can easily trace out the logic of the outcomes. Many of us can easily recall a real-life example of offensive behavior biting its owner. Maybe we don’t think about this enough, but our choices clearly lead to both short- and long-term consequences, for good or bad. Did I not create the environmental conditions I experienced over those next ten seconds? If I do think about it a little bit more, this silly example can serve as a guide to my behavior in daily life.