Have you ever wondered about someone that you see on the bus, plane, or train?
Are you a ‘people watcher’ by nature? Do you sometimes allow your imagination to create a storyline on your person of interest? Or, are you intrigued by medical science, behavioral science, and spirituality and how they intersect with the human condition?
If so, make some couch time with renowned psychiatrist Dr. Saul Levine. Reading his book, Our Emotional Footprint: Ordinary People and Their Extra-Ordinary Lives will take you on a very special train ride that will give you the opportunity to peek deep into the lives of some of the passengers.
This book is like reading a textbook novella of the most authentic and dynamic case studies that you could analyze in school or clinical training. Levine’s characters and their stories seem so real it is almost like having an informal lecture series with him in person.
“The passengers’ stories are composites of many individuals I’ve known in a variety of contexts, and I hope they will immerse you in their lives, with me along as a ‘tour guide of minds and emotions’,” Levine writes in his prologue.
In addition to being an engaging read, the book has an instructional component as well. Throughout the stories, Levine provides additional information and commentary on selected topics and treatment methods as they relate to the characters. These are clearly defined throughout the book, and though they were helpful to me as I read them along with each story, they can be read at anytime as supplemental reinforcement.
As the title discloses, Levine teaches us about our “emotional footprints,” and the impact they leave on others, whether positive or negative. He defines emotional footprints as “the effect we have on people in our day to day lives, and those recalled and cherished when we are gone.”
While reading this book, I frequently paused and reflected on my own emotional footprint and journey, and what I could try to do to make a positive impact. So, in a strange, unexpected, surreal way, I found myself as one of the chosen passengers at times.
Levine also discusses how what he calls the “Four B’s,” which are being (the personal), belonging (the social), believing (the spiritual), and benevolence (the altruistic); together, they make up the means for “evaluating the worth of our lives.”
Levine’s Four B’s, combined with what he calls common core issues — identity, work, loneliness and loss, the random factor, hope, epiphanies, love, happiness, friendship, resilience, forgiveness, gratitude, aging and wisdom — will determine what type of legacy we will leave and whether it will be a positive or negative emotional footprint.
The Four B’s and the nature of each character’s emotional footprint are examined at the end of each story. This gives the reader a fulfilled sense of closure for each passenger’s journey.
Levine is a gifted writer as well as a psychiatrist. His writes in an intellectual, comprehensible, and conversational tone so that you are both learning and immersed in his rich characterization and storyline. Whether you are non-degreed or highly-degreed, you will be able to understand the concepts he presents in this book.
I suggest that you take your time reading it so that you can reflect on each of the passenger’s stories, and your own as well. I would recommend this book for small group discussions, especially for those interested in the behavioral sciences and preparing to serve in the helping professions. In retrospect, I wish that Levine would have provided a few discussion questions after each story, too.
As I reached the last page of this book, I was honestly not ready to stop reading. I wanted to meet more passengers on the train and learn more about their journeys. I wanted to find out if any of their experiences were coincidently similar to mine; and if so, did we handle them the same way?
In his last chapter, Levine exhorted, “We need to be grateful for each day, and when we encounter others on similar excursions, we can help them as well as ourselves by sharing our humanity with them.”
I wanted to evaluate my own emerging emotional footprint and also reflect on those of my friends and loved ones. I ultimately wanted more couch time on the train with Dr. Levine.
Our Emotional Footprint: Ordinary People and Their Extra-Ordinary Lives
Saul Levine, MD
iUniverse, April 2015
Softcover, 219 pages