10 Letters to Live By

Painted+heartIn the rush of your daily life, there are probably moments — even days and weeks — when you forget what’s truly important.

This ten letter alphabet list, developed by Dr. James R. Doty, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford, is a simple way to stay connected to what matters.

C for Compassion.

Open your heart for yourself and others.

D for Dignity.

Recognize the dignity of every human being.

E for Equanimity.

While acknowledging the ups and downs, try to find an even keel.

F for Forgiveness.

Seek forgiveness from those you have failed and those who have failed you.

G for Gratitude.

Keep in the front of your mind gratitude for all that you have.

H for Humility.

Remember that you are no better and no worse than others you encounter.

I for Integrity.

Value honesty and integrity and use it to guide your actions.

J for Justice.

Acknowledge your obligations in context of social justice.

K for Kindness.

Be kind to yourself and to others.

L for Love.

Let your heart be open to love from within yourself and from others.


I was fortunate to hear Dr. Doty share this alphabet list at the Nonprofit Management Institute conference, Pioneering Change in our Networked World. After a heart-warming talk, he offered this list in response to a question from an audience member about how he stays open-hearted even though he must be unemotional and detached as a surgeon.   Note:  I have paraphrased Dr. Doty’s comments in the sentence under each letter. They are not verbatim.

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Recite the Alphabet List C through L Every Day This Week

Try reciting this easy-to-remember list in the midst of your busy day as a way of triggering your more caring side.

Neurosurgeon, Dr. James Doty, often recites this list to himself to help integrate his highly disciplined and unemotional practice as a neurosurgeon with his humanity. Perhaps it can help you, too.

What simple methods do you use to connect to your heart? Share them in the comments.

Dr. Doty is a Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for the Study of Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The website for Building a Culture of Empathy includes several videos from this remarkable man. You can also read his article The Science of Compassion in the Huffington Post.