When my dad died a couple of years ago, our family had its first encounter with the hospice movement. Now my wife (Luann) and my daughter (Robin) are both doing hospice volunteer work. Last month, during one of the ongoing training classes for the volunteers, Luann told me about a powerful exercise that’s been stuck in my mind ever since. The goal of the exercise is to help volunteers understand what it is like to be the people they’ll be helping.
Here’s the setup. The trainer hands out packets of index cards and asks each trainee to write, on each of their cards, something he or she loves and would be devastated to lose. It’s easy to imagine what you’d write: the names of family members (spouse, parents, children, siblings, pets), activities (walking, playing music, traveling), experiences (reading, listening to music, enjoying gourmet dinners, watching sunsets).
Now the trainer walks around the room and randomly takes cards from people. One person loses two of them, another loses all of them, the person who lost two loses two more.
The effect is dramatic. Trainees clutch their cards and struggle not to let them go. When they release the cards they are visibly upset; some break down and cry.
This not only poignant. It also speaks volumes about effective explanation. For a long time my mantra has been: Show, don’t tell. If I show you a concrete example, that’s better than if I just tell you about an abstract principle. But that still leaves you on the outside looking in. If I can instead get you to experience for yourself what I am trying to explain, you will understand in a deep way and you will never forget.