This post is part 8 of 9 in the series Oprah's 25 years of lessons learned.

On her final show, Oprah shared her greatest lessons and hopes for her viewers. In this series of posts, Paul highlights ten lessons Oprah learned, along with his related and unre­lated thoughts and stories.

“You all have been a safe harbor for me for 25 years. It’s strange, I know, but you have been. And what I hope is that you all will be that safe harbor for somebody else — their safe place to fall. Do for them what you all are telling me the show has done for you. Connect. Embrace. Liberate. Love somebody. Just one person. And then spread that to two. And as many as you can. You’ll see the difference it makes.” — Oprah Winfrey, May 25, 2011

Read the complete Oprah Show finale transcript →

Safety in threes

There’s a safe harbor I can count on. Most Wednesday afternoons for at least 90 minutes, I join two grads of my master’s program on a phone call. Since February 18, 2005, our triad has logged hundreds of Wednesday sharing moments, growth spurts and sputters, and winding passages filled with doors to open.

It works like this. After a check in, someone asks for time today to explore a topic. That person has the call until they’re done or we’re out of time. The other two are charged to create and hold a safe space for the conversation. We usually do that with one person just listening and the other listens and actively asks open questions.

A participant’s topic can often last for weeks. And sometimes there are no urgent matters and we share and see where the conversation takes us. Our sessions are like cycles of life — funny how that works.

The topics can be fascinating learning adventures:

  • surprise at the behavior of others and wanting to understand these differences,
  • self-exploration of emotional triggers,
  • life questions, dilemmas or transitions with no obvious solutions,
  • good-ole venting of frustrations or laughing at myself,
  • understanding what we learned (or didn’t learn) together in grad school,
  • celebrating milestones, joy and success.

There is something magical about a triad. Maybe it’s having three different opinions — lowering the chance of “I’m right, you’re wrong” that could show up for me in a pairing. Or three brings more intimacy (plus air time) and less diversity than with a larger group.

Maybe it’s the quality of sharing and the reinforcing feedback loops created — as the level of honesty deepens, the likelihood of judgment decreases and as the level of judgment decreases, the level of honesty deepens.

Three sticks joined together at the top can support a garden plant with lots of tomatoes. Try that with one stick or two — impossible. Perhaps the magic comes from having two people dedicated to listening to me. Actually it’s three people, since regularly I’m hearing myself utter thoughts kept deep inside.

And it could be the challenges we faced together in grad school — teaching our peers, reading physics, grasping how complex change (and life) really is. Plus the life transitions that wouldn’t go “on hold” just because we were in grad school.

Or the “I’m not alone” feeling that comes from sharing learning lessons with friends on similar journeys.

And it’s probably all of these plus more I can’t even imagine. There is something magical about a triad. This triad is one of life’s great gifts, my energizer that keep on giving. The 90 minutes fly by and the call ends with our trio singing and whistling “happy trails to you…” Riding into the sunset, each to our own worlds — complex and other wise.