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.