As we mourn and celebrate Aretha Franklin, it feels like neither words nor songs can do justice to her talent and legacy, unless they are her own. A 20th and 21st century icon, winner of 18 Grammys and the undisputed Queen of Soul, she graced us with a voice that has not only provided us endless enjoyment and inspiration, but one that offers vital life lessons that we can draw upon to honor her memory and far-reaching impact on the world:

1. Practice humility. The world knew her on a first name basis, but Aretha stayed humble, a sign of greatness that is lost on most of today’s self-promotional “leaders.” Most of us with a fraction of the talent she possessed would have an inflated ego. Not Franklin. When asked about her greatness, she would quickly point to others who paved the way and inspired her.

2. Use your voice. Not just for singing. To speak out against injustice. To demonstrate solidarity. To advance human rights. To help us find common visions and ground. To help each other. To show R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha was a catalyst in the civil right movement and demonstrated a steadfast commitment to working to eradicate discrimination based on race and beyond. We can all use our voices to stand up against ism’s, oppression and marginalization based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion and any social identity categories that leave people vulnerable to harm perpetrated by dominant groups and/or power-over structures.

3. Keep your thinking cap on. Perhaps most famously associated with The Blues Brothers movie, Franklin’s “Think” song needs to stay on auto repeat, so that we remember to keep thinking about how our actions affect people. We are capable of getting to a better place, but not if we are skimming off the tops of our feeds and falling for the fear-based messaging that divides us. When we take the time to think and develop greater self-awareness and empathy, we can all experience the kind of Freeeeeeeedom! Aretha sings about. Research shows that when we use metacognition—the process of thinking about our thinking, we are more likely to flourish and thrive and redirect our actions for positive influence.

4. Use your talent to your highest potential. Franklin said she used her gifts to the “highest degree possible.” Her longevity as an artist and activist didn’t waiver; instead she continued to create and contribute in ways that were so powerful, they will continue to inspire us for decades to come.

Thank you, Aretha for giving so much to us. Your voice lives on as we strive to honor your legacy of humility, advocacy and striving for equality and social change.

Originally published at


  • Dr. Kris

    Behavioral Science Expert. Psychotherapist Comedian. Global Citizen.

    Northeastern University

    Dr. Kristen Lee, Ed.D., LICSW, known as “Dr. Kris”, is an internationally recognized, award-winning behavioral science clinician, researcher, educator, speaker, and comedian from Boston, Massachusetts. As the Lead Faculty for Behavioral Science and Faculty-in-Residence at Northeastern University, Dr. Kris’s research and teaching interests include individual and organizational well-being and resilience, particularly for marginalized and underserved populations.  Dr. Kris works with organizations and leaders around the world on how to use the science of behavioral change and human potential to build healthy mental health cultures that help prevent burnout and promote organizational and human sustainability.  She is the author of RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress, winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Motivational Book of 2015, best-selling Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking-Learn What it Takes to be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World and Worth the Risk: Learn to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World, a 2022 The Next Big Idea Book Club nominee. She is the host of Crackin’ Up: Where Therapy Meets Comedy and is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and Thrive Global. Dr. Kris’s work has been featured at Harvard and on NPR, Fast Company, Forbes, and CBS radio. Her TedX talk, The Risk You Must Take is featured on Ted. In her spare time, she can be found out on the running trails, attempting tricky yoga poses, eating peanut butter cups and drinking kale juice—but not all at once. Connect with her at or @TheRealDrKris (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat).