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While I was out walking this morning, I was reflecting on the cloud of sadness that envelops the planet – the sadness that lies underneath the anger, vitriol, disrespect, resentment, jealousy, rage, hate, fear, terror and confusion that inform and drive so many folks in their day-to-day dealings with others.

Then, coming back home, I happened on this poem and thought, “Hmmm, synchronicity.” So, I thought I’d share it with you this week.

The poem, written in the 1970s by James Patrick Kinney called, “The Cold Within” reminds me (us?) what’s at stake as we collectively (like it or rot) move forward.

“Six humans trapped by happenstance,
In black and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood,
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs,
The first woman held hers back.
For on the faces around the fire,
She noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way,
Saw one not of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give,
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes;
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use,
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought,
Of the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned,
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge,
As the fire passed from his sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood,
Was a chance to spite the white.

And the last man of this forlorn group,
Did naught, except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave,
Was how he played the game.

The logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.”

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • How does this poem relate to your life today? Are there real-life situations where you see people being like the six people in the poem? How so?
  • How does your body respond as you read this? What emotions or feelings do these sensations communicate? Do you ever feel” cold within?” How so?
  • Could you see the six people as representing different parts of your personality or character? How so? Do you see any part of you reflected in one or more of these individuals? How so?
  • What if the poem had focused on a seventh person who did share their wood? What could you learn from this person?
  • Could the poem be seen as a commentary on society as a whole, rather than just individual behavior? In what ways might we be like the six people in the poem, and how could we work to change that? How might you work to change that?
  • How does the poem relate to the concept of justice and fairness? Does it suggest that justice is about treating everyone equally, or does it suggest that justice is about making sure that everyone has what they need? Do you care?
  • What role do personal beliefs and values play in the story? Are any of the characters acting out of a particular belief system or worldview, and if so, what does that tell us about the importance of beliefs in shaping behavior? What are some of your beliefs that shape your own behavior?
  • Have you ever lived your life from a “zero-sum” game perspective? How so?
  • Do you ever exhibit jealousy, resentment, “righteous indignation,” arrogance, “giving to get” behaviors, revenge, spite, guilt, shame, confusion…? How so? Under what circumstances? Do you try to justify your feelings or behaviors? How so? What are the stories you use to justify your behavior?
  • What are you doing with your stick of wood these days? What does that look like, feel like, sound like? What are others saying about you?
  • Do you think the main theme of this poem is empathy and compassion? Something else?

(c) 2023, Peter Vajda, Ph.D., C.P.C.  and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.
Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is – maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)
You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.