Dr. Harry Cohen of Ann Arbor, author of “Be the Sun, Not the Salt,” offers tips for spreading positivity in your career and relationships.
By Alana Blumenstein
Photography by Morgan Heinzmann
Dr. Harry Cohen of Ann Arbor wants you to be the best version of yourself.
But it can be difficult knowing where to begin. That’s why Cohen, a psychologist and executive coach, is sharing his knowledge through practical and useful tips. In his book “Be the Sun, Not the Salt,” he is making it easier to reach your full potential.
“I want to be the best person I can be,” Cohen says. “And I believe I have a role to teach and help and coach others to be that.”
Throughout his career, Cohen has spread his principles all around the country. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornell University and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, he spent 10 years serving patients in private practice. Later, he began coaching executives on better leadership and communication in the workplace. Now through his book that came out in January, Cohen is branching out to a wider audience.
“One of my challenges is that there’s so much wisdom that is not accessible,” Cohen says. His goal is to simplify the message, using the heliotropic effect — the idea that all living systems are drawn toward light — as metaphor. Just as plants are nourished by the sun, they will wither with salt, he explains. Cohen encourages people to apply the metaphor to their own relationships.
In every interaction, you have a choice to be like the sun and draw people in, or to be like salt, negatively affecting others. “Everyone can relate to that metaphor,” says Connie Fontaine of Grosse Pointe Park, executive director and co-founder of the platform “Be the Sun, Not the Salt.”
Our acts of kindness can occur in little, everyday life scenarios, she explains. Whether it’s opening a door for a colleague or giving a sincere thank you to a friend. The energy that we emanate can either positively or negatively affect those around us.
Anyone can be the sun, says Cohen, 64. He adds that it doesn’t matter if you’re quiet or introverted. “You can still be the sun, uplift others through your natural, wonderful qualities,” he says. “It’s about being authentic and being your best self.”
About a decade ago, Cohen opened Black Pearl, an Ann Arbor restaurant that embodies his teachings. He crafted an environment where customers and workers are welcomed with love. There, he is constantly applying his metaphor, from providing an uplifting dining experience to growing a micro garden in the restaurant that features locally sourced ingredients.
Cohen stresses the negative impact “being the salt” can have on others. “We’re all geared towards falling into our own bad habits and thinking it doesn’t matter,” he says. He emphasizes that our actions do matter and can actually damage our relationships. “People should have zero tolerance for salt-like behavior,” he says.
Last October, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Nearly a year later, he is tumor free but will require ongoing monitoring. Still, he holds himself to the same standards. “Having cancer doesn’t give you an excuse to be rude,” he says. “It gives me a chance to be the next best person I can be.”
Instead of looking down at his situation, Cohen views his life with an uplifting outlook. “I’m really grateful that I get to practice and preach this stuff,” he says. “Especially with my cancer, because it gives purpose and meaning.”
Cohen and Fontaine urge others to keep spreading their message. “We all need it, even the best of the best,” Fontaine says. Many readers have bought books for their employees to encourage better morale in the workplace. Others have bought them as graduation gifts.
“Be the Sun, Not the Salt” is a book made for everyone, Cohen says, recommending to leave it by your bedside, bathroom or desk. “You can flip it open to any page any given day,” he says. “And many people do and are nudged in a positive way.”