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Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I met Ryan Schoenbeck, my partner in an upcoming leadership event, for coffee the other day to catch up after his trip to Florida. He recounted to me his flight home, on which there were three people in the row behind him, speaking in a vile and negative manner. Of course as he was at 40,000 feet in a 400 mile-per-hour pressurized can, his options to find different company was severely limited. As they continued, he realized their negativity was souring his mood.

After several minutes of trying to ignore this unwelcome exchange, he put on a pair of headphones to soothe his by now sour mood. As he listened to some music, he had an epiphany. How does our mood, the image we project to others, and ultimately the way we interact with those around us affect and effect others?

When a person sneezes, their germs can travel 12 to 15 feet. I find it interesting that this is roughly the distance the normal speaking voice is heard. In our society, it is considered polite to cover our mouth when we sneeze or cough. Of course, this custom developed to prevent the spread of disease.

If a person were to sneeze in public without covering their mouth, everyone around them would at least provide a disapproving look, and someone might even have a few choice words for the offender. I find it both interesting and sad that we rarely take the same care with our emotional health. We insist that others take care not to pass their sickness to us and our families, but we don’t take the same care with our emotional health.

While we might encourage a person to prevent disease by covering their mouth when they sneeze, with a look or even verbally correcting them, we are very unlikely to change their attitude for the better using the same tactic. So how do we inoculate ourselves against unhappiness and a sour outlook?

The first, most obvious way is to look after our own attitude. Are we passing along kind words, positive thoughts, tenderness, beauty, the capacity to dream, strength, a smile? We have plenty to help us, art, literature, music, inspirational and uplifting movies, and the stories of those empowering people that live all around us. My personal favorite are quotes from those who express such an outlook.

We can’t force others to behave in a healthy way, but as we monitor our own behavior, we can choose to associate with those who try to live and express themselves in a loving and positive manner. For those relationships we have that are neither positive nor uplifting, we can choose to be loving and supportive that they may also become healthy.

I wish to leave you this week with the following quote from psychologist and philosopher William James, “The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives.” May all of your lives become what you dream them to be, but if that is not to be, be able to say your life fueled and supported the dream of another.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on He can be reached at

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