The Human Touch

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What is the next great idea in education? How might we best help our students to master difficult material? Does anyone have the key to unlocking minds?

These are questions that every teacher and concerned parent ask. We truly want to improve our educational system and we spend millions of dollars seeking answers. Our educational force travels to foreign lands to observe programs that appear to be successful. Our teachers spend summers learning new skills. Districts invest in diagnostic tools. We reinvent the educational wheel over and over again, hoping to stumble upon a magic bullet that will in one fell swoop increase our children’s knowledge, thinking abilities, and curiosity. We attempt to make mathematics and science more accessible to all, while we strive to demonstrate how to read and write more fluently. In spite of all of our efforts we find ourselves in a quandary. We still appear to be losing so many of our kids to struggles with learning, and so we continue to experiment in the hopes of one day stumbling upon the key to unlocking minds.

Fifty or sixty years ago when I was earning a degree in education a psychologist named B.F. Skinner was all the rage. His focus was on the types of reinforcement techniques that we humans use to motivate individuals, and so we learned that encouraging students when they do something right is more likely to have them repeat the good behaviors than punishing them for mistakes. He insisted that we can slowly move a person toward a goal with the just the right amount of encouragement. He even attempted to create a teaching machine that would be able to accomplish such a task according to the specific needs of the learner. Back in his days technology was a long way from being reliable or effective and so his efforts failed, but he predicted that one day there would indeed be a mechanism designed to enact his ideas.

Fast forward to the future which is now. The power of the computer has allowed us to create individualized instruction complete with feedback that would no doubt delight Skinner. While it has revolutionized education in general, there are still difficulties when it comes to creating effective programs for individuals. The fact is that it simply does not work for some people. There is till a need for a warm human to unravel questions and provide inspiration and motivation. A machine is far too cold to handle the task alone.

I do a great deal of interventional tutoring since retiring from education six years ago. I find that there is no substitute for small group interaction between humans. The first step in helping a struggling student is always a matter of dealing with fears and frustrations, something a computer can’t do effectively, at least not yet. Not all students have the ability to focus well enough to concentrate on a mechanized one size fits all instructional video, and yet they are being used in most of the schools that I encounter. Virtually every high school student is well acquainted with Kahn Academy, and while I use the lessons myself to brush up on ideas for teaching certain concepts, it cannot be used as a substitute for a good warm blooded teacher inside a classroom. It’s proper use is for reinforcement of material, not initial instruction.

I have encountered a new trend of late that involves assigning an instructional video to students for homework. They watch the electronic teacher explaining various concepts and then work independently on similar problems. The following day in class they are able to ask specific questions about the material. For the students with whom I work, this methodology has been a disaster. It is backwards from the way that works best for them. Namely, they would be better served by first receiving instruction from the teacher, then watching the videos to clarify the processes, followed by independent practice with problems and finally questions about the work. They are floundering but sitting quietly in the classrooms because they don’t even know how to begin their inquiries. They are simply lost and sometimes even drowning in confusion. By the time I get them they are feeling dejected and their confidence is in shambles. My job becomes demystifying the definitions and processes in a way that guides them to understanding. Sadly, the time that they have to spend with me often increases their stress because they are always just a bit behind in their mastery and so their grades do not reflect what they eventually manage to learn.

When I watch the videos that they must view I actually appreciate all of the time and effort that such teachers have put into producing them. I enjoy knowing how the instructor is presenting the material so that I might use similar terminology and practices. Still I find that I have to learn how and when to pause the stream of information so that I might take notes or try some of the problem solving on my own. I find that I am able to do so effectively only because I already know how to perform the operations and I am familiar with the vocabulary. I am also able to separate the chatter from the most important ideas. I suspect that the top students who are already rather gifted in mathematics have little difficulty doing as I do, but for the average to below average soul those videos must be just a cacophony of meaningless sound. For those with specific learning disabilities I can only imagine how frustrating it must feel.

I’ve been in a classroom and I fully understand and appreciate the frustrations of teachers as well. They have far too many students and increasingly complex demands that don’t always have much to do with teaching are placed on them also. Their days are long and exhausting and the vast majority of them are doing their very best. Sometimes the most gifted among them are able to break down the barriers that all too often separate them from their students. They become the inspirational individuals who change minds and manage to touch hearts as well. In other cases they simply feel as beaten down as the students. They desperately want to make a difference but can’t seem to find the way to do so. Far too many aspiring educators last less than five years before they leave in total frustration.

We seem to understand that people are complex and as such there is never one right way of doing things. It has been proven that even with regard to diet, there must be differences that take individual genetic tendencies into account. Why, I wonder, do we still approach education as though there is indeed a magical way of reaching all students without concern for their individuality? Why do we crowd our children into rooms as though they are being warehoused like cattle? Why do we push them at the same pace? Why are there so few of us who want to teach them in charge of so many? What is it about our society that we place so little value on such an important task? Why do we complain but demonstrate an unwillingness to support our schools?

The truth about education is that it has to be tailored to a person, not a crowd. Everyone is capable of learning, but not in the same way or at the same pace. How many times have we met an adult who struggled in school but eventually got it all together at a later date than his/her peers? It is the way of humans to meet milestones in a variety of ways. It is up to us to appreciate that fact and provide our young with educations suited to them. It’s perhaps the most important task that we might ever perform, and it will pay unmeasurable dividends to our future. It always requires the human touch.

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A Matter of the Heart

automaton.jpg.pngWhen I entered high school placing students in particular tracks had become all the rage. Based on grades and an entrance exam I ended up in what was known as the Honors group. Things were a bit nerve racking for me because the principal inserted a caveat to my designation in a face to face meeting in which he indicated that I would only be part of that cadre on a probationary status. In fact he suspected that I would be removed within the first grading period because I was barely qualified for the academic rigors to which I would be subjected. Through sheer determination I hung on for four years and graduated with an Honors designation. It would not be until I was an adult that one of my former teachers would reveal that my peers and I had been part of a grand experiment that did not work as well as the adults had hoped.

Educators have a tendency to be constantly searching for what I call a magic bullet, a way of doing things that will transform the way we teach our children and result in dramatic advances in knowledge and critical thinking. Sadly as such attempts take place there is always a risk that they will not bring the hoped for advantages and may actually do damage to the students who become living guinea pigs. Thus it was with me and many of the other people in my class. Each of us became known more by our labels and less as the individuals that we were. We tended to believe that sets of numbers defined us, and in my own case I worried that everyone would learn that I was a fraud. Because the principal had so clearly indicated that I did not have the intellectual acumen to be a member of the elite Honors class, I was constantly stressed and uncertain of my abilities. Little did I know until that fateful reunion with my teacher that I was not alone in the emotional trauma that the untested methodology unleashed. The fact that the plan that had driven the daily routines of my class was eventually changed to address its blatant problems was of little comfort. The damage had already been done and it bothered me even though most of us had managed to overcome the difficulties perpetrated by faulty methodology.

As a teacher I understand the need to find the best practices for reaching students. Still I have watched a parade of bandwagon theories that have ultimately been rejected long after they have had an ill effect on the youngsters who were used to determine effectiveness. I don’t suppose that we are able to tell whether or not something will be successful until we try it, but for the group that is subjected to massive changes it can be disastrous. We watched the new math of the seventies be rejected because it never really clicked with either the teachers or their pupils. We worry about that the constant standardized testing and the thirst for hard data has somehow ignored the heart and soul of each individual. We sense that numbers alone are incapable of measuring the content of a mind. We try different styles of note taking, tutoring and delivery of lessons, only to realize that there is no one size fits all way that works for everyone. We labor to individualize learning and teaching but then insist on scripting lessons. We’ve tried cooperative learning, behavioral modifications, and on and on. All are noble and well intentioned efforts but instead of taking an entire group and radically changing the way they are taught, why can’t we try such interventions in small doses until we are certain that they are effective?

There is a trend in many schools today to modernize teaching by using technology with a nod to B.F. Skinner. Students watch educational videos or read lessons at their own paces. If they fully understand the concept they are free to keep moving forward. If they are confused they ask questions of the teacher who becomes more of an interventionist and less of a direct instructor. Interactions between teachers and their pupils are thought to be more targeted and thus more effective, but for many it has become a frustrating venture leading them to confusion and a loss of self esteem. As someone who has always understood that there is never one best way, I have to wonder what proponents of such radically different systems were thinking when they decided to abandon all of the traditional ways in favor of a grand experiment. Why not instead insert such changes in small doses and then measure their effect on each student? It would make much more sense to see what happens in a trial run rather than simply accepting that all of the old ways should be left behind. It really is possible to teach in a number of different ways and still get phenomenal results.

I would like to propose that teachers select the methods that work best with a particular set of students rather than tossing out the baby with the bath water in favor of new ideas that are still untested. We should instead tread lightly with innovations, use them sparingly until it is evident that they truly are effective. It’s never a good idea to overuse any practices. They can become too routine and boring to students. Variety truly works well and provides opportunities to try the latest educational ideas. The most important thing is for teachers to still be teachers, not just conduits of information. In other words the goal is to help every student to attain mastery of concepts. That takes patience and creativity because sometimes the secret to unlocking a mind lies not in how information is presented but in how an educator touches a heart and turns on the magic that lives inside everyone. There are truly some aspects of learning that have little to do with data points.

We have rubrics and measurements for literally everything today, neglecting to take our differences into account. Students who don’t quite fit the mold often feel that something is wrong with them. Only a talented and sensitive teacher knows how to help them to find themselves in a world that seems so intent on judging their worth based on numbers. We really do have to move beyond the test scores and grades to encourage our youth to see learning as a magical and exciting experience rather than one that places daily stresses on them. If a student does all of the steps correctly to find the equation of a line when given two points but then accidentally multiplies wrong to reach an incorrect answer, we need to be willing to give that person credit for what they did right and use the mistake as a learning tool. All too often we instead slash a big red mark over the entire effort and leave the child feeling inept. That borders on educational malpractice.

There are those who speak of today’s students as snowflakes, kids who can’t handle conflict or difficulties. Nothing is farther from the truth. Today’s children are busy checking off boxes that indicate that they are moving steadily toward success. It is an almost robotic atmosphere in which they must complete so many requirements just to move from one phase of education to another. Square pegs have to fit into round holes no matter how painful the process of doing that may be. Universities make it more and more difficult to land an acceptance letter. Students must have resumes that include rigorous courses, leadership roles, extracurricular activities and even community service. They work from before dawn until well into the late hours of night attempting to accomplish all of the expectations. Many of them are enduring mental distress in the process and questioning their worth when they falter. It is as though we have embarked on a nationwide experiment with their very lives and souls. We have become Tiger Adults who push and push and push without thought of where all of this will lead. It is little wonder that so many young adults are pushing back on the system once they come of age to make their own decisions. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to demand that schools take a long hard look at the effects of what they are doing.

I made it through my high school and graduated as the Valedictorian in spite of the negativity and pressures that were placed on me by well meaning adults. Not everyone is so fortunate in such highly charged situations, and we have to take every person’s needs into account. There are indeed great teachers who have found the keys to reaching students without destroying their confidence and we should observe them and learn from them. Isaac Owoyemi teaches mathematics for mastery, providing students with multiple opportunities for learning concepts in an encouraging environment. Seng Dao Keo understands the necessity of starting from the point where students are on the learning curve rather than failing them for not being ready for a particular idea. Chrystal Hunter deconstructs the most difficult aspects of mathematics and simplifies them so that her students will comprehend and feel accomplished. Dickie Written reaches the imagination of his pupils by making literature relevant and exciting. Lisa Sandifer understands that many students need the arts to reach their full potential. Jenny Brunsell brings the heart of an angel to her kids and they always respond. Such educators realize that while there is an element of science in teaching it is in the execution of its art that the true miracles happen. They do not rely on scripts or preplanned lessons or the latest fads, but instead select what is needed in a specific time and place. This is the trend that we need to follow. Until our children feel the joy of learning all of our efforts will have been in vain. We reach them first through the heart and then the mind follows.

Remembering A Wonderful Life

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The classic movie It’s A Wonderful Life considers the difference that one individual might make in the world. The premise is that if the hero had never lived everything in his town would have turned out differently. It demonstrated that while each of us only touch a limited number of lives, our impact is nonetheless profound.

I was thinking about this when the new RAISE immigration plan was announced. I wondered what might have happened if such a law had been in effect when my grandfather first wanted to come to the United States from Austria Hungary. He had only minimal education and no real skills beyond a willingness to do the most detestable of jobs. His English was minimal. He came with little more than the clothes on his back and did the kind of manual labor that is brutal and dirty. He was frugal and saved money until he was able to send for my grandmother. She had even less to offer our great country than he did. She spoke no English and her education was virtually nonexistent. Once she had arrived she worked as a cook, a cleaning lady and at a bakery until she began to have children and then she rarely left her home again. My grandfather eventually settled on a job at a meat packing plant. He cleaned carcasses and equipment, hardly a grand career but certainly a noble way to provide for his family. From his meager salary he built a tiny house for which he paid cash and there he raised eight children.

According to the point system of the RAISE plan Grandpa would hardly have been a candidate for immigration. There was little to indicate that he would be of great economic use to the United States. I am rather certain that he would have been denied entry to our nation. What a loss that would ultimately have been.

All four of my grandfather’s sons served proudly in the military during World War II. During their lifetimes they worked hard at their jobs, rarely missing even one day of work. Two of them were employed by the United States Postal Service and two worked for Houston Lighting and Power. His daughters held a variety of positions that included teaching, doing research for a high blood pressure study, serving the United States Postal Service and working at a Naval Station. Their children, my grandfather’s grandchildren, were even more remarkable. Among them were accountants, teachers, managers, businesspersons, firefighters, and engineers. In fact my brother coauthored the program for the navigational system of the International Space Station. I wonder who would have done that if my grandfather had never come here?

It’s difficult to imagine how different the lives of countless individuals might have been had my grandfather never been granted permission to immigrate to the United States simply because his education was lacking, his skills were so basic and his English was wanting. On the surface he most certainly may have appeared to be a risk, and yet he was a proud American who encouraged his children to always work hard and be their very best. When many citizens were struggling to survive during the Great Depression he kept his family safe in a home that he had build one section at a time, paying for each addition as he went. He was frugal and refused to even accept even charitable gifts, insisting that he wanted to earn whatever he had. He was exactly the kind of American that has made this country great, but with a law like RAISE he might never have stepped on our shores.

With each successive generation his successors have become ever more important contributors to American society. There are medical doctors and those with PhD’s in public health and mathematics. There are teachers, accountants, nurses, electricians, business people, builders, athletes, ministers and scientists. The talent pool that has come from him has widened and the future of his great great grandchildren appears to be even brighter. His was the American dream and it was fulfilled beyond even his own expectations. Certainly it has made a difference to the country in a measurable way, but what if he had never been allowed to come?

My grandfather’s story is not that unusual. It has been repeated many times over in the history of our nation. Individuals who came with little or nothing to recommend them went on to build families whose impact was monumental. If we were to take away all of their contributions how different would our land be? How can we ever know who among us will be the teacher that we need, the inventor who will make our lives better, the leader who will find solutions to our biggest problems? Each of us traces our ancestry back to some distant place and in most cases the person who first ventured here was desperate to find a better way of life, but did not appear to be outstanding on the face of things. How can we use a point system to determine which people will ultimately have the best impact on our land?

I have taught thousands of immigrant children. Many of their parents spoke no English, but they were good people who did their share of work, often the dirtiest and least desirable. Like my grandfather they wanted a better life for their children and sacrificed greatly to make it happen, many times by working multiple jobs. Among my students from such families are college professors, medical doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, police officers, soldiers, fire fighters, mechanics, builders, accountants, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, psychologists, public health administrators, computer programmers, public administrators, school principals, counselors, lawyers and even politicians. In a single generation they have fulfilled the hopes of their parents and are actively contributing to society in thousands of ways. They are the true face of immigration, not the hopeless gang members and welfare takers that fear mongers sometimes portray them to be. 

I respectfully submit that we should carefully consider what we might be missing if we restrict immigration to our country as outlined in the RAISE bill. Skimming what appears to be the cream of the crop from various foreign nations may or may not be the answer to a better economy. Sometimes the desire that comes from someone desperate to improve his/her condition cannot be measured by a rubric, just as the worth of my grandfather might have been considered rather low. What made him a good candidate for consideration was the “ganas” burning inside his belly. All he needed was an opportunity to demonstrate just how valuable he truly was. Thankfully he was given that gift and what a difference it has made to the United States.

We certainly want the best for our nation but we need to consider the consequences of limiting ourselves to rubrics that fail to recognize the intangible values that make truly good citizens like my grandfather and his descendants. The issue is far too complex to delineate with numbers. Human beings will surprise us again and again. We need to be open to thinking outside of the box, because it is beyond the confines of our imaginations that the best things happen. Let’s keep our lives wonderful and welcome the tired and the beleaguered. From them may come just the people that we have been waiting for.

Choose Experiences

PossessionsI have accumulated lots of things over the years. Some of what I own was handed down to me from my elders, other items are treasured gifts from friends and family. I still possess many of the wedding presents that I received almost fifty years ago. Of course I have kept souvenirs from vacation trips and art work from my children and students. There are all of the usual household and clothing items, not to mention furniture and books. I own music and musical instruments, hobby supplies and gardening implements. I keep wrapping paper and greeting cards and decorations for virtually every occasion. I enjoy my collection of little pigs that are supposed to bring me good luck and smile at the thought of the china that my brothers purchased for me using all of their savings when they were still young boys. My possessions represent a lifetime of accumulation and most of the objects are actually somewhat sentimental to me. Still, I remind myself continuously that they are just things and of little value when compared to people and experiences.

When I think back on my life I hardly remember buying something, but I always vividly recall the special times that I have spent with the people that I love. Thinking of the Sundays that I spent on the banks of Clear Lake with my cousins back when I was a kid warms my heart. I am literally able to hear the humming of the motor boats that were pulling skiers over the water. I can taste the salty spray and feel the heat of the sun on my neck. I recall our antics as we jumped the waves and lowered chicken on strings into the water in hopes of catching crabs. I see my mom and her siblings and they are so young and beautiful and fun to be around. I’m not sure what I purchased in those years or even what I wore, but I am certain that those days we spent together were magical.

I can still see and hear every single detail of my first date with my husband Mike. It’s funny how I knew on that day that I had met my soulmate. I’ve never so instantly clicked with anyone else in my life. We started a conversation back then that we have never completed. He was so incredibly handsome as he arrived looking as though he had just stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine. We saw The Flight of the Phoenix at a theater at Gulfgate. We ran into a couple of my high school classmates and I was proud to be in the company of someone as stunning as Mike. Later he took me on the first of the many adventures we would share. Our destination was to a downtown musical venue called The Cellar that was unlike any experience I had ever before enjoyed. I would later tell my friends that I thought I had met the young man that I was destined to marry.

I am able to outline every detail associated with the births of my children from the time that I learned that I was carrying them all the way through the pains of labor. Of course those wonderful child rearing years were most decidedly the best of my life. We really did have fun on Anacortes Street as they grew into lovely women. Best of all were our vacation trips that took us all over the United States in our different trucks. We slept under the stars in a canvas tent that resembled a circus big top. We laughed and shared stories and marveled at the wonders of our land. Summer after summer we traveled to all of the national landmarks making memories that have never been forgotten.

I can still feel the burning in my muscles as we trudged up the rocky path in the middle of the night on our way to the top of Long’s Peak. We watched the lights come on in the towns below and made it to the Boulder Field by dawn. We weren’t able to make it any farther because the girls were just not old enough and strong enough to climb over the huge rocks, but we felt such a sense of accomplishment and that hike became one of my all time favorite memories.

I still think back on my daughter’s milestones, their first steps and words, their school days and accomplishments. I am often reminded of their programs and performances and the glory of their graduations. Of course their weddings were wonderful even though I was so busy that I hardly had time enough to eat. Best of all were the births of my seven grandchildren who brought new and unparalleled joy into my life. Spending time with them and watching them grow has provided me a whole new set of joyful experiences.

I always loved my work and the educators and students that I met in that capacity. So many of those people are still numbered among my friends. We shared long days together, some of which were stressful at the time but always in the end we felt that incredible sense of having accomplished something very personal and important. I suspect that we are still as close to one another as we are because of the real significance of our work together.

I’ve had so much fun over the years with very special friends. I loved the times when my friend Pat and I spent weekends taking our children to movies and the 59 Diner. I still laugh at our visits with Linda and Bill and the way it took us hours to actually drive away whenever we had announced that it was time to leave. I treasure the trip to Austria that we shared with Monica and Franz as the new year dawned in 2005. I smile with pleasure at the memory of bridge games with Susan and Nancy. I love the dinners and lunches with friends and students that keep our relationships thriving and provide all of us with feelings of being loved. The concerts in which I saw the Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney were sensational. Seeing The Phantom of the Opera  on Broadway was the culmination of a dream.

It may have taken me a bit too long to get here, but I now understand the critical importance of an undisputed truth, “We should all invest in experiences rather than things.” At the end of the day even if we lose every possession, nobody will ever be able to steal the joy that we have felt from the moments in which we have seen glorious places and been with people that we love. That is what we should seek. That is what is most important.

Our Unique Selves

the-danger-of-uniqueness-1058x426People are fascinating to me, and I don’t just mean the rich, the famous or the accomplished. I am interested in the common everyday person like myself. I long to hear people’s stories. When I go to Walmart I’m not looking for crazies so that I might laugh. Instead I find myself wondering how each person got to this moment in time and what his/her past and future may be. I understand that some of the most compelling histories are found in the lives of the most ordinary people and that it is virtually impossible to judge a book by its cover.

I knew a woman who cleaned houses for a living. She rarely wore anything other than torn jeans and stained t-shirts. Her hair was long and stringy. She appeared to be little more than a good ole Pasadena gal, but upon further research I learned that she had an MBA from Harvard and a very successful business caring for homes in River Oaks.

I once had a student who appeared to be little more than an arrogant bad boy who drove his teachers to the brink of insanity. He befriended me and ultimately told me stories that made me cry when I was alone in my home. He had a single mom who struggled to keep the family from being homeless and wandering the streets. Life was as tough as it gets, and yet this young man found the time to attend church with a friend. The services provided him with solace in a world that was mostly cruel to him. He had been born again and wanted more than anything to be a good and Christlike person. He confessed to me about something that was bearing down on his conscience and desperately wanted to know what to do.

He and his mom and sister had been on the verge of being evicted. There was no food in the house. Things looked quite grim. They walked to a nearby Walmart to see what groceries they might afford with the few dollars that his mother had left. While they were perusing the aisles the boy’s mom noticed a cart with an expensive purse sitting in the child seat. The woman who owned the handbag was far away with her back turned as she searched for a particular product. Her bulging wallet was visible and just begging to be taken. My student’s parent grabbed the billfold and whispered for her children to follow her quickly away from the scene. When the coast was clear she opened the wallet to find over five hundred dollars inside. She immediately cried tears of joy and told her children that they would be able to keep their apartment and eat well on that day.

My student, her son, was conflicted. He knew his mother to be a good and honest woman but she was desperate. He also realized from his recent religious conversion that what his mom was doing was very wrong, and yet he remained guiltily silent. The theft bore down on his mind and he was not sure what he should do. His dilemma easily explained his surly behavior and the fact that he was unable to focus on his school work. It would have been easy to simply write him off, but in hearing his story I understood the depth of his morality and the pain that worrying about his mom had wrought.

People are always so much more than they seem, but we don’t often hear their entire stories. That is where my most passionate interest lies. I truly enjoy discovering the essence of the people that I meet and I suppose that I have always been that way. My mother used to chide me for staring at strangers. I certainly meant nothing by doing that. I simply wanted to know them better. I liked to read faces and body language. I desired to know why someone was angry for no apparent reason. I realized that we are who we are because of a totality of experiences.

I think that it would be quite wonderful just to sit across from someone and say, “Tell me all about your life. I want to know what it has been like for you.” I suspect that if I were to do so I would find out that almost everyone begins with similar hopes and dreams, but the serpentine nature of reality often sends him/her along routes that challenge and sometimes even defeat. Those people who seem ridiculously strange are more often than not just victims of situations over which they have lost control.

Fighting one’s way out of poverty or abusive situations is much more difficult than it may appear. The sad truth is that we are not all equal in terms of intelligence. I have encountered so many individuals with major learning disabilities who struggle mightily to learn. Others are afflicted with mental illnesses that stalk them so often that they are unable to create routines for working and achieving success. Then there are those with major health problems. The list of reasons why some people remain in a state of economic or psychological distress are quite real and often not of the individual’s making. As a society it is up to those of us fortunate enough to lead relatively stable lives to help those who are less able but we don’t always do that. We instead look the other way or poke fun at those who are different.

I’ve also known people who are far more remarkable than they are willing to let on. They tend to be quite humble individuals who rarely toot their own horns. Sometimes it is only when they have died that we really begin to know them through the eyes of the people whose lives they impacted. As stories of their generosity, contributions and talents are shared we realize that a saint or a rock star was hiding in plain site, but we had no idea because they would never have sought recognition for their incredible deeds. My cousin who passed away just before Thanksgiving was one of those souls. All of us were stunned to hear of the innumerable kindnesses to one person after another that he displayed all very quietly. We knew he was a good man, but never quite realized the extent of his largess.

Most people have a hobby of some sort, but mine is learning about others. I would love nothing better than to make appointments everyday to just listen to the folks with whom I have been acquainted and those that I have yet to meet. I can only imagine how many wonderful things I would learn. This world really turns from day to day not so much from the movers and shakers but from the millions of nameless individuals who rise with the sun and do their best to make the most of the cards that have been dealt them. It is in their stories that we find profound truth and maybe even inspiration. We need to hear from them because each person is a beautiful and unique gift to our world who deserves to be celebrated and understood.