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Affectionately known as "America's #1 Success Coach," Jack Canfield is the originator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and a leading authority in the areas of self-esteem, achievement motivation, and peak performance. [www.jackcanfield.com]

 
Arianna Huffington Arianna Huffington political powerhouse. media mogul. author.

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Seth Godin Seth Godin author. speaker. linchpin.

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Mastin Kipp Mastin Kipp Writer. Entrepreneur. Daily Lover.

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Liz Phair Liz Phair singer. musician. crier.

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Zainab Salbi Zainab Salbi author. ceo. humanitarian.

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Mathieu Bitton Mathieu Bitton Designer. Art Director. Passionate Creator.

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family

Gary Kowalski Gary Kowalski family guy. nature connoisseur. spiritual connector.

Gary Kowalski is a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and the author of seven books on nature, spirituality, science, and the environment. [www.kowalskibooks.com]

gary_kowalski_feature

What matters to me is family – feeling connected to a circle of care and love. Over time, that circle has widened to include relatives of many species.

I was grieving my grandfather’s death, for example, when I first heard about the gorilla Koko and her kitten. Koko, who’d managed to learn American Sign Language, got the kitten for her birthday. When the little cat escaped from the Gorilla Foundation and was killed, the ape was asked what she understood about the accident. “Why do gorillas die?” a trainer asked Koko, who responded with the signs for “trouble” and “old.” “How do gorillas feel when they die? Happy, sad, afraid?” Koko answered simply, “Sleep.”

At that point I’d received a degree from Harvard Divinity and been ordained, but graduate school doesn’t teach you the answers to questions like Why do people die? or Where do you find hope? My granddad was the primary male parent figure in my life, so I was struggling with his loss. But somehow Koko’s story opened my heart. I understood that my private burden of pain wasn’t so private after all. Though I’d lost a beloved family member, I was really part of a much larger family than I’d previously imagined: a community of passion and compassion that included me but outlasted me, that had been evolving for millions of years.

Since then, my “family” has grown. Two children joined our household, including a biological daughter and an adopted son. A proprietary strand of DNA isn’t really essential, I’ve learned. So, other family members would have to include the dogs who’ve shared our home, the chickens out back who give us eggs, and the chickadees who visit the feeder in winter. In inspired moments, I feel related to all of nature.

It’s the illusion of separateness that creates much of the unhappiness in our lives. Interdependence is the reality, both science and religion agree. But our culture encourages a “What’s in it for me?” attitude that leads us to regard other people as strangers and the natural world as a collection of commodities placed here for our personal gain. Alienation is the result. 

We are all related, sharing one Earth, one history and one fate. To renew that sense of kinship, plant a garden. Learn a new language. Love unconditionally, the way your dog does. Help those you can. Practice kindness without limits. 

– Gary Kowalski

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