Inspiring Others by Example

"Honor your emotions but don't be driven by them." To most people, these are the words of Dr. Dan Gottlieb, the host of NPR's Voices in the Family. To me, they are the words of my teacher, my mentor and my source of inspiration.

Back in 1978 when I began post-graduate training to become a family therapist, luck was with me when Dan was assigned to lead my class. Unlike most of his colleagues, Dan was approachable and gave students the sense that he was genuinely interested in what we had to say. Steeped in the study of women's issues and institutional sexism, I held some different points of view, and rather than feel threatened by them, Dr. Dan found my ideas to be refreshing. His open and curious mindset was hard to come by at that time. Most of the male leaders in my field held far more arrogance, righteousness and unconscious bias that belittled women and ignored abuses of power. Dan was a diamond in the rough.

In December of 1979, Dan's life came crashing in on him. A drive to buy his wife a thunderbird for their tenth wedding anniversary, ended with him in a tragic car accident that left him quadriplegic. Visiting him in the hospital quickly broke down any barriers that existed from being teacher and student. I witnessed Dan's dive into deep depression, his fierce determination to work in rehab and his unwavering gift for talking out-loud about everything he was feeling and thinking. Life hadn't prepared Dan for how to cope with the enormity of this game changer event and it hadn't prepared those of us around him for how to handle our own emotions of helplessness and fear.

As you might imagine, finding one's way back after losing the ability to walk or move your limbs is beyond the scope of "a challenge." It was amazing to watch Dan's doggedness and his willingness to embrace and work through fear, shame and intense degrees of vulnerability. Somehow he found his way back to the therapy chair, this time round in a wheel chair. The invite to host a radio show for NPR, starting in 1985, gave him a new forum for being a teacher. Gifted in explaining complicated dynamics between people and knowing how to engage others in conversation, Dr. Dan took the show to a national level. He went on to become a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, an author of books and a motivational speaker to a wide range of audiences.

Earlier this month, in front of a live audience, Dr. Dan announced the end of an era; he'd be retiring as host of the show in lieu for hosting bi-monthly specials at the WHYY station. The time has come for the next act of slowing down the pace of everyday life. For good reason, his listeners instantly began grieving in anticipation of the loss of their weekly dose of on-air therapy.

It's a rare person that is authentic to the bone, is able to impart deep wisdom and, at the same time, teach us how to hold a compassionate heart. His recent blog posting for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation captures his essence and lends us more guidance for going forward: "what do I want to do with this precious time? Love more people, more things and more deeply than I did yesterday." Dan, you will be missed, but, most definitely, never forgotten.

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