Sacred Conversations

Sacred Conversations

Group News posted in on 1 May 2014| comments
audience: Gary Shunk | last updated: 1 May 2014

I practiced psychotherapy for 20 years before I became a family advisor. At the outset of my education, and throughout the course of the work, empathy was my central practice. Empathy is “feeling with” the client.

“Walk a mile in my shoes,” is the old adage. This is what I learned to do. I learned to set aside what I wanted to talk about and how I thought or felt about something, and got curious about the other person sitting across from me. I slowly learned how to enter their world. As I did this, clients would trust me and open more and more to me. But, what was really transformative is they were opening more to themselves. When someone listens to us, I mean REALLY listens, there is nothing like it. The rapt attention someone pays to you is a blessing and a gift. To be heard, seen and validated is a true gift.
Hearing Clients At Deep Levels

Over the years I developed this process of hearing clients at deep levels. Any good therapist has this skill.
When I began working with families, this skill played, and still, plays a key component. All members of families need empathy. Carl Rogers called this “unconditional positive regard.” It is the deepest form of acceptance.
When a family needs to address legacy issues, I invite advisors that I work with and families to begin with an open exploration of what really matters to a family. For a family to do this there needs to be empathy.
When I was a kid in school my favorite thing was “show and tell.” To bring some sacred object in to share with my classmates was a sheer joy. I also loved hearing about their objects and the stories that filled my imagination. Each time I learned something new, unique and often intimate about my classmates. And, of course, when it was my turn, I beamed.
Talking About What Really Matters

What is a legacy conversation? It is a conversation where the older and younger generations sit together and talk about what “really matters.” What really matters is each other; the family relationships and the way the family relates and loves each other. The money and things that make up the family’s wealth are important, because they sustain and bless the family forward into the future. These things can be seen as giving stability or causing instability, depending upon how the family is doing with itself. If the family is good, wealth is good. If the family is not good, wealth can make it worse.
So, the show and tell notion, related to legacy conversations, has to do with honestly sitting together and talking about who we are, how we are and what we have. The elders tell the stories of how we got here. They inform the middlers and youngers what worked for them and what didn’t. These conversations become sacred conversations because they contain “wisdom.”  I use the term “soul capital.” Wisdom is different than knowledge. Knowledge is information.  

Wisdom is deep and painstakingly won insight. It is unique and particular to each family – for every family is different. So, when families hold these kinds of conversations, they become sacred (spiritual capital = something bigger than the self and family. Something that guides and protects us).
Legacy conversations are “show and tell” events, too. When grandfather and grandmother are sharing at a family gathering, the stories they tell are gems from their past they show and tell about. Show and tell is a ritual revealing of a families values in action. As these sharings continue, the family begins to show and tell together. Over time, this simple sharing turns into what I believe to be sacred conversations. In these conversations lay true wealth.

Families of wealth who initiate and maintain conversations around legacy, values, and so on discover deep treasure. Why is it that most families don’t hold conversations like this? In a word: intimacy. When we become initiate with each other, we reveal. Vulnerability is uncomfortable.  

Discomfort creates anxiety, or pain. The paradox is, that when a family is courageous enough to delve into these kinds of conversations, the discomfort passes over time, and what a family and its individual members finds is unity. With family unity, anything is possible.  

The Soul Capital of a Family

Legacy conversations are sacred because they contain stories from the elders, middlers and newers that carry the “soul” capital of a family.  Soul capital married with financial capital clarify and empower families to truly live their core values. Sacred conversations lead to true family flourishing.

I use the term “sacred conversations” because of the depth that lives in the inner world of family. 

At the core is love.  Love is sacred, it is divine. In essence what lies in waiting in families of wealth (financially prosperous families) is a different kind of wealth, soul capital, riches.

When a family engages in family meetings to address legacy questions, it is good to begin with “show and tell.”  Simple storytelling captures the essence of what brought a family to have a legacy to pass on.
To contact Gary Shunk, call him at (312) 810-0011, email him at and visit the site


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Group details


Family Wealth Dynamics
PO Box 572
LaGrange, IL 60525
United States
Phone: 312-810-0011



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