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In divisive times, find a way to connect.

In our society today, it seems as if every topic immediately polarizes, fragments us and quickly leads to rigidly drawn lines between two opposing sides. Those on our perceived side are right, they’re our allies, the good guys.

And those on the other side?

They’re just wrong. They are to be pitied for their unawareness, canceled for their ignorance or attacked for their stupidity.

So, what will be the result of this elevating anger? What happens as our media complicity sows seeds of outrage each day and our political leaders jam a larger wedge into society?

What are the consequences if we choose to continue down the hostile, divisive path we’re on?

The answer was framed brilliantly in one of my favorite poems by James Patrick Kinney. Written in the early 1960s, it is, sadly, highly relevant today. The poem is titled The Cold Within:

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

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

The next one looked across the way
Saw one not of his church,
And could not 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 wealth he had in store,
And keeping all that he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

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

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

Their sticks held tight in death’s stilled hands
Was proof enough of sin;
They did not die from cold without…
They died from cold within.

Read that last line again. They did not die from the cold without…They died from the cold within.

My friends, it’s not unreasonable to feel the chill of discouragement. With so many individuals reporting increased loneliness, elevated dread, growing mistrust and heightened anxiety, it should come as no surprise many feel as if they are sitting around a fire, angry at the others, furious about their past, incensed by their plight and distraught by their future.

Through inaction or action, by omission or commission, through violence or subtle indifference, it’s one way to move forward from where we are. And it will lead to us grasping tightly the wood in our hands as the fire slowly dies.


We can make a radically different decision to embrace deep personal accountability for where we are, determine to come back together, engage with those different than ourselves and listen to their opinions.

Rather than ranting, posting or canceling, we can listen with an open mind and open heart capable of actually learning from those who have had wildly different life experiences than our own.

As the fire begins to wane and the light begins to fade, it’s time to return to the circle, together.

It’s time to learn from mistakes we’ve made for too long, knock down walls we’ve built to keep others out, and reengage in solutions that elevate not only individuals, but also culture.

It’s time to not only take full responsibility for our lives, but to recognize the calling to serve as our brothers and sisters’ keepers, too.

In other words, in a marketplace where many angrily and selfishly hold fast to their wood, it’s time for us to throw ours onto the fire.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

20 replies on “The Cold Within”

On my drive to work this morning God added another verse for me:

The seventh had the love of God,
But did not let it out
For fear of rejection from the world
He lived his life in doubt

It is not about deciding that you are none of these things, but looking inside to see why you are not making a difference.

Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. Always fascinating how words from years past can be so appropriate today. Thank you for the message John!

Thank you for this reminder, John- Life is precious and each and every human has potential for growth and fulfilling aspirations. We cannot grow and learn in a bubble. It is indeed time to put our proverbial sticks on the fire as families, communities, nations and worldwide. Many thanks!

Hi John, great commentary on this oh so relevant issue! I have retired and am currently just traveling slowly around the world for a few years exploring so many different cultures and meeting so many new friends from different countries, cultures, races, backgrounds, and religions. It is turning out to be rare that I find people that are “dying from the cold within”. Maybe it’s my approach but for the most part, I’m finding people are the same everywhere. They may look different and they may have different languages, but they are all part of our wonderful earthly family of humans and other sentient beings. I want to know them and they want to know me. We are ONE WORLD and I only wish politics and the media could see that!!!
Love you John! Thanks for all you are doing for humanity!!

While I loved the poem and message for the few individuals that are struggling with throwing their stick on the fire, I agree with you that fortunately the vast majority of people are not struggling or hesitating to help anyone in need.

Wow! What a great way to start the week. I will be sending this to many loved ones. Thank you for sharing this poem and message.

Such a brilliant read for a Monday morning! Thank you John for a gentle (or maybe not so gentle reminder) of living from our heart space and with acceptances.

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