James R. Doty
Originally posted 16 Sep 2013

A brief period of meditation and contemplation each morning can serve to put the daily stresses of life into perspective. Each morning and sometimes throughout the day, I go through a mnemonic which I have found very useful. I created this mnemonic after I was asked to give a speech to a group of students about to begin medical school at an event now common throughout the U.S. called the “White Coat Ceremony”. As part of the ceremony, the students receive a white coat, take the oath of Hippocrates (or equivalent), and then a doctor who nominally epitomizes the highest ideals of medicine gives an inspiring speech to set the tone as they begin their careers as physicians. I was honored to be the speaker at the medical school from which I graduated many years ago. I wanted to create an easy way for the students to remember a set of core values that would serve them not only during their careers in medicine but also for their futures as human beings on this earth.

I am motivated to share the mnemonic with you because a number of people have told me that it has had an impact on their lives. One person was so moved that she created a mala (prayer beads with one wooden bead representing each letter and an extra gold bead representing “The Golden Rule”) that she shares with others during her work as director of the largest homeless shelter in the U.S. You can view a video about the beads here.

I hope that you will also find “the alphabet” useful.

C is for Compassion—be compassionate to yourself and recognize that everyone is suffering and therefore deserves your compassion.

D is for Dignity—every human being, regardless of their situation or circumstance, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

E is for Equanimity—life will always have its ups and downs, and while one often wishes the ups could last forever, it is not our lot as humans. So don’t grab too tight on the ups … often it is the downs that teach us the greatest lessons about who we are. So try to be calm and steady regardless of whether you feel up or down … neither is going to last.

F is for Forgiveness—because people are going to disappoint us, and until we can forgive them, it is like drinking poison and somehow thinking that is going to kill the other person. And it doesn’t work. Also, the reality is that at some point each of us is going to disappoint someone or not live up to another’s expectations. How would you wish to be treated in that circumstance?

G is for Gratitude—appreciating how fortunate we are and having gratitude for what we have.

H is for Humility—being humble is very hard. The reality is that recognizing we are no more important than any other person and looking at each person as an equal allows us to serve without feeling superiority or pity.

I is for Integrity—personal integrity. It is a slippery slope when one compromises one’s personal values for something of far, far less value.

J is for Social Justice—understanding that each of us has a personal responsibility toward those less fortunate than ourselves.

K is for Kindness—kindness is actually the implementation of compassion. Compassion, in its scientific definition, is the recognition of another’s suffering and the desire to intervene and relieve suffering. Kindness is actually compassion in action.

Finally, L is for Love—love is a glue that connects us all and when freely given is returned many times over.


About the Author

James R. Doty, MD, is a Clinical Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University and the Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University School of Medicine. As Director of CCARE, Dr. Doty has collaborated on a number of research projects focused on compassion and altruism including the use of neuro-economic models to assess altruism, use of the CCARE developed compassion cultivation training in individuals and its effect, assessment of compassionate and altruistic judgment utilizing implanted brain electrodes and the use of optogenetic techniques to assess nurturing pathways in rodents. Dr. Doty is also an inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist having given support to a number of charitable organizations including Children as the Peacemakers, Global Healing and Family & Children Services.

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