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We walk again and again.


(Photo and graphic by Brianna Doby)

I like Thoreau. Do you like Thoreau? Why do you think we all like Thoreau so much? This little piece outlines a few reasons why.  I prefer to think that as our culture feels the burden of so much noise, so much clutter, so much so much, that Thoreau’s words feel like *sound*, like clarity, like an aspirational homestead for our overwhelmed souls.

Or maybe he was just an excellent writer. That works too.

I read this quotation recently and decided to write about it for you. It’s been on my mind as I travel to more and more places, giving my trainings, smiling a lot of smiles, meeting so many incredible people.

I wonder, sometimes, if the time we spend working and learning together, if it stays with you.

It definitely stays with me. I’ll let Thoreau tell you why:

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

I think over and over again the thoughts that I wish to dominate my life. Empathy, connection, hard work, kindness, hope. I’m lucky–it’s my job to think those thoughts! It’s literally what I do for a career. Think, speak, make mistakes, try again, get ideas, think, speak, and write and speak some more.

But you: you don’t do what I do (which is think and talk a tremendous amount about advocacy and rhetoric). I come into your lives for just a few hours, maybe a few days, and I give you lots of things to think about in your personal advocacy, and I wonder what you leave with.

You have big, broad lives, and our training time is so little in the scheme of things. Yet, even with that smallness of scale, I certainly want our work to be useful to you, now and in the future. I want to be a good steward of your time and challenge you to add a few skills to your set.

Then I think–what sticks with you the most? I am sure the things that you remember the most are the things that you then practice the most, which deepens those paths for you in your mind.

I reach out to the people I train on social media and here on the blog with the intention of reinforcing the tools we learn together, and helping us all walk again and again the paths that to deepen our understanding and our skills. Can I do better with helping you walk those paths? Should I develop some kind of practice guide that helps you retain the things we learn?

I am not sure. If you have ideas, or if you think that I can do something to walk beside you as you make these deep paths, tell me. I would love to hear from you. I want the tools I teach to be useful, like a long-worn path. That path is important because it takes us to the same vista every time: a view of the world without a wait list.

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Rising above the debate


Today, the New York Times has a “Room for Debate” feature that discusses the case for and against changing incentives for living kidney donation.

These are smart people, talking about complex ideas, making arguments they passionately believe in.

Fantastic! Complex medical, ethical, and socio-economic issues should invite the best minds in the country to contribute their research and knowledge to finding better solutions. I am always happy to see the brilliant people put their effort towards saving more lives through organ and tissue donation.

However, as the staff and volunteers at the OPOs and transplant centers that make donation and transplant possible *under our current, ethical system of compassionate, altruistic donation and transplantation*, we sometimes hear more about the myths these smart discussions stir up, than about the solutions the debates propose.

Debates are debates because people have the time, energy, research, and resources to engage in an extended discussion about a complicated issue.  Having a long, intense conversation with a person standing at an elevator about a complicated issue with ample time for research and rebuttal is just not possible!

I frequently tell the people I train: many times, when speaking about a passionate belief in donation and transplantation, you might well be prepared to have the debate with a person who disagrees with your donation decision. The problem isn’t whether or not you are ready to engage that person in a discussion, the problem is 1) whether that person is ready to listen and engage in that discussion and 2) whether that person has the time and space and emotional tools to engage in that discussion.

It’s not you, it’s them! And they are the intended audience–so meet them where they are, not where you already stand.

Today, if this article raises questions in your community and invigorates a some myths or questions that you need to address with fact, rise in altitude. Here are three good turns of phrase to rise above a debate you and your audience don’t have the bandwith for during a quick conversation–while putting forth the life-saving message you stand for *right now* as an advocate:

  1. Gosh, I’m not a surgeon or legislator or bioethicist. What I can tell you is that many thousands of people on the wait list die every year. Right now, you and I can help those people sick and waiting on the list by saying YES to donation and transplantation as registered donors. If the American public decides to make improvements to that system, with new programs or legislation, I certainly would support any efforts to help the 122,000 folks who are sick and slowly dying on the wait list.
  2. Goodness, that’s in the news again, right? Well, I’m no expert on bioethics or public health policy, but what I can tell you is that registered donors save lives. What you and I can do right now to help those people is make a donation decision, and tell that decision to family and friends. As with any other public health issue, I want the doctors and scientists working on this have the funding and support they need to save the 122,000 sick people who are in need of a transplant today.
  3. A lot of very smart and passionate people are working on ideas to help save the lives of 122,000 people dying on the wait list today. What I can also tell you is that donation and transplantation need support. You know the great work done by ALS advocates with the ice bucket challenge? In the field of donation and transplantation, we need debate, discussion, funding and new ideas to solve the big problem of regular folks getting very, very sick and not receiving a life-saving transplant in time. I look forward to seeing what Americans can do to register more donors and save more lives as people debate possible changes in policy!

Do you like these ideas? So do the good people at Gift of Hope, OneLegacy, Donor Alliance, LifeSource, IOPO, and many more OPOs and partners in the field! I run entire trainings full of tools and tips just like this to help staff and volunteers stay positive, passionate, and on-point when telling the life-saving story of donation and transplantation in our communities. Email today to find out how I can help your organization rise in altitude to tell a more powerful story, and save more lives.

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Be nice. No, be even nicer. And really mean it.*


I meet a lot of people every year.

I also train hundreds of people to become grassroots community advocates every year.

Meeting people is kind of my wheelhouse. Getting people to connect empathetically with others is also kind of my wheelhouse.

I recently read and enjoyed this Atlantic piece, based on a more colorful and NSFW essay by the excellent Paul Ford on Medium. The Atlantic piece focuses on a specific trick of politeness and conversation from Ford’s essay. Everyone can use it–it’s just four words–

“Wow, that sounds hard.”

As in, we’ve just met, I ask what you do, and *no matter what you say*, I reply, “Wow, that sounds hard.”

Tinker, tailor, candlestick maker? Doesn’t matter. “Wow, that sounds hard.”

I have two reactions to this, one personal and one professional. I’ll start with the personal reaction:

Darn, he’s telling everyone my trick.

Acknowledging that the path each person walks has its own *real and perceived* difficulty is a key to connecting with anyone, stranger or friend. I’m telling you, use it, and see the magic of empathy work in every conversation.

Professionally, I have a separate reaction:

I need to double down on empathy in my trainings.

I’m a likeable person. My mother taught me about that listening is important, and people who listen are better at making connections. I listen, therefore you are able to tell me about yourself (or who you feel yourself to be in that moment, which is okay, too) and then, when you feel me listening, you feel connected to me. Feeling connected is so nice. Listening makes that connection possible.

I like listening. I like being likeable. I sometimes wonder if my work training people is just as much about me listening to what they feel–so passionately–needs to be heard, as it is about the tools I give in my workshops. “I hear you!” I am saying, silently, with my friendly smile and my good eye contact. “You are important!” I am saying, silently, with a look of concentration and my lean into our conversation. “This moment matters!” I telegraph, with my lifted eyebrow and my hand on your shoulder.

Connection. Listening. Empathy.

I recently held a staff training where people talked about their roles in a large company. Hearing them put their own words about their challenges, achievements, and struggles was so enlightening. Many times, what I heard between their words and their smiles and their nerves at the microphone was:

“Wow, my work is hard. See? What I do is hard!”

Yes, what you do is hard. In the field that I work in, particularly, this field of liminal spaces between last breaths and first breaths, waiting breaths and hoping breaths, the between-times of life and death,  transplantation and donation, yes, yes, work is hard.

Wow, that sounds hard.

Professionally, I’m going to use Ford’s tip as a part of my next training. I’ll tell the good people I train: the best connectors, the people who make the biggest difference in this world, they seek to listen to others as much as they speak. If you connect in empathy, you can lean into that connection to then persuade people to commit to a donation decision that will save lives.

Personally, the next time I see you, and we meet, and we talk about what you do, I’ll say “Wow, that sounds hard.” And I’ll mean it.

*Something I have said to my 7 year old many times.

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1:3 your 3:1

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I have very strong feelings about social media. I have written in a lot of detail about what I like about social media (access!), and what I think is lacking (conversation! reconciliation!).

A colleague of mine recently asked what she could do to make her social media work at an OPO more valuable to her community and more effective as a tool to influence public opinion. I’ll share with you the advice I shared with her:


Many of you know my 3:1 rule for social media, which I think is important for volunteers and social media managers alike. For every 1 post that reminds people of the difficult, sad, or tragic parts of life, we need to add 3 uplifting and motivating posts to remind people of the extraordinary impact of donation and transplantation. That’s a great way to keep the story of donation and transplantation powerful, positive, and persuasive.

Also, no one likes a sad/mopey/depressing Facebook feed. True story.

I think most of us use the 3:1 rule pretty naturally. The 1:3 rule, however, is less intuitive.

Brianna’s 1:3 Rule:

For EVERY post you make to any social media platform,

engage with your connections/audience THREE times. 

Comment on their posts, re-tweet them, favorite and reply, etc. And–for goodness sake–if you ask a question on social media, and followers take the time to reply, make sure you reply to each and every one of those responses. With a lot of enthusiasm!

We ask people to re-post, re-tweet, and re-spond to so much. The only way we can start thoughtful conversations with our followers, and with people outside the echo chamber of those who already agree with us, is to engage in more conversation, and less shouting into a crowded room.

Reply, respond, and reconcile. Start and finish conversations. Ask questions that you want to know the answers to, and then put those answers to work.

I challenge myself, and all of us in the donation and transplantation community, to use the 1:3 Rule to develop a conversation with those who don’t yet support donation, or have not yet made a donation decision. That’s a great way we can persuade NEW people to commit to donation and transplantation, and save many, many, many more lives!

P.S. Engaging with more comments, replies, and conversations on social media could make you happier. Bonus!