A Pre-Admiration Mindset

Dr. Jim O’Connell was 30 years old when he entered Harvard Medical School. Being older than other students, he was anxious to begin practice. That’s why he was reluctant to spend a year providing medical care to the homeless in Boston. But he agreed.

He reported to the Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter and medical clinic. It was run by nurses who didn’t believe doctors were trained properly. He was met by Barbara McInnis, the head of the clinic. As Jim followed her to the treatment area, she told him to remove his stethoscope.

Then she told him to get a bucket of warm water and soak the feet of his first patient. This was not what Dr. O’Connell imagined his medical career would be.

But as he began to look around, he noticed many of the homeless in the clinic were patients he had seen in the ER at Mass General during his residency. They refined treatment in the ER but accepted it here. The difference Dr. O’Connell discovered was how they were treated as humans.

Dr. O’Connell was hooked and has spent the rest of his career treating the homeless.

Along the way, he developed what he called a pre-admiration mindset. As he describes it: “I’ll find time to like this person.” Just imagine what that means. You think of what might be good in a person, no matter how they seem to you when you first meet them.

Contrast a pre-admiration with a pre-judicial mindset. You no longer demonize a person based on looks, socio-economic status, religious beliefs, race, national origin, political views, sexual orientation, or any attribute of their character, as flawed as it might be.

When you adopt a pre-admiration mindset, you start looking for a person’s good qualities. This comes from listening to them without prejudice. That’s what Dr. O’Connell learned by soaking the feet of what others saw as the dregs of society. And he came to see a genuine human reaching out for help.

How might our society be changed if those with a pre-admiration mindset became missionaries and role models of this way of living? Would it change the way that we view those we choose to be our leaders? Would it change how we lead our own lives? Would it lead to a society where kindness triumphs over selfishness, where hope triumphs over despair, and where happiness triumphs over grievance? One would hope so.

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“Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not envy, to follow but not imitate, praise but not flatter, and lead but not manipulate.”  – William Arthur Ward (motivational writer)

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