Heroes You Should Know: Shyam Bihari Prasad

 

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On a cold November morning three years ago, as Shyam Bihari Prasad entered his Hanuman Hindu Temple in Vasant Kunj New Delhi, India to pray, he was approached for the umpteenth time by the neighborhood’s poor children, begging for food.  But this time, as he gave them biscuits from his own lunch, a thought crossed his mind.  Instead of giving them charity that would last a few hours, why not offer something that would last a lifetime?  So the retired business manager decided to try something new—something that could truly alter the lives of these children.  Education.

 

He had discovered that the youths were either not able to go to school, or were frustrated in their learning by the limitations of the over-crowded and underfunded school system.  So he set up his own school, for any child who wanted to learn.  The sidewalk outside the Temple became his classroom, and his supplies initially consisted of one mat.  But what he had in abundance was the time and the patience to offer one-to-one instruction for each student.

 

So, from 8:00 to 11:00 A.M. five mornings a week, Prasad would teach children of all ages a variety of subjects.  At first he had to bribe them with chocolate and toffee to attend, but soon the students were coming on their own—the incentive to learn from a caring adult was enough.  Prasad earned the nickname “Uncle”, and his ‘school’ grew to thirty students.

 

The locals, noticing the charity work, began donating food and school supplies—mats, tables, chairs, textbooks, pencils, notebooks and paper, and easels.  Several adults even took over some of the teaching load.

 

Presently the ‘sidewalk school’—stronger than ever—includes lessons in Math, Science, Spelling and Writing (of Hindi, and English).  And as distracting as the constant honking of cars and chatty foot traffic must be, the eager students stay amazingly focused.

 

Along with higher test scores, Prasad has also observed an unanticipated benefit of his kindness—his children, at first verbally and even (on occasion) physically abusive toward each other, have become increasingly empathic and kind in their interactions.  They’re not only learning to be better students, their learning to be better human beings.

 

Prasad is motivated by the goal of giving these under-privileged youths as much of an opportunity for success as the children of the wealthy.  But wherever his students end up, they will have learned that they are lovable, and loved.  And that’s the most important lesson of all.

 

Shyam Bihari Prasad is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes you Should Know Welles Crowther

Genius always gives its best at first; prudence, at last.   -Seneca

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Welles Crowther worked for Sandler O’Neill Partners on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  And that’s exactly where he was on the morning of September 11, 2001 when the plane hit.  Undaunted, Crowther, with a red bandanna covering his mouth and nose to protect him from the smoke, sprang into action.  Witnesses report that he worked with a combination of intensity and calm to rescue people, re-entering the building three times.  He is directly responsible for saving the lives of at least 18 people.

The fact that he made it out of the inferno three times when so many didn’t make it out at all is remarkable enough.  But that he went back three times to help others is the epitome of heroism.  Six months after the South Tower collapsed, the body of this hero was finally recovered in what had been the lobby, along with members of the New York Fire Department with whom he had joined forces.  They were trying to go back up once more with a “jaws of life” tool to free victims trapped under rubble.

Courage?  Crowther was the very embodiment of it.  But I want to focus on another virtue he displayed that day:  prudence.

Prudence is about putting “first things first”; it is the virtue that guides sound judgment.  Some might quietly and respectfully question the “sound judgment” of a man who would go back into a collapsing sky scraper three times.  Back up the stairs as people rushed out.  Back into the smoke, and fire, and horror, and death.

Three times.

But prudence isn’t about playing it safe.  We’re talking about virtue here, not the basic rules of accounting.  Welles Crowther went back again, and again, and again because it was who he had become.

Crises don’t make or break people, they reveal people.  And long before September 11, 2001 became synonymous with both evil and heroism, Crowther was figuring out what it meant to make good decisions, judgments that were based on more than just emotion, and ease, and self.  In the home and in the classroom, on the athletic field and with friends, as a boy scout and eventually an investment banker and a volunteer firefighter…in a thousand little ways, he learned to put first things first.  He learned to focus and stay focused on what was most important, most essential at any given moment.

“Genius always gives its best at first; prudence, at last.”

In the last hour of his life, Welles Crowther made the sound judgment that saving lives was what he was supposed to do…first things first.  Not because he had to, but because he could.

And the demons shuddered, and the angels bowed.

Welles Crowther is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

 Heroes You Should Know: Piotr Malachowski

 

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Olympic athletes are blessed with a unique set of gifts, both physical and mental.  To be the best in the world at events that demand cat-like agility, Herculean-strength, marathon-endurance, and decades of machine-like discipline is worthy of respect.  But what if you combine all of these qualities with the empathy of a saint?

 

You get Piotr Malachowski.

 

Malachowski, a  6’4”, 290 pound two time Olympian won the silver medal in the Discus at the Rio Olympics last month.  But instead of adding the medal to his collection of awards, he decided to auction it off, in an effort to pay for the surgery of a young Polish boy he’d never met.  The child’s mother had written a desperate letter to Piotr as time was running out.

 

Three year-old Olek Szymanski has retinoblastoma, an eye cancer that effects children 5 years-old and younger, and he needed surgery to save his eyesight and his life.  The cost was estimated to be $126,000 and needed to be done in a special ophthalmic oncology clinic in New York.  Some money had already been raised, and Malachowski was hoping to raise the rest of what was needed—$84,000.  So he posted an online challenge to the world:

 

“I invite everybody to join the bidding. If you help me, my silver medal may be more valuable for Olek than gold.”

 

After one week, the bidding had risen to $19,000, a significant amount, but still far short of the olympian’s goal.  And then Polish billionaire siblings Dominika and Sebastian Kulczyk stepped up and bought the medal for the full price.  And just like that Olek was on his way to New York.

 

As an added bonus, as if there was a need for one, more than 120,000 people have now also donated to Malachowski’s charity site SiePomaga, dedicated to raising money for children with catastrophic health crises.

 

Poland won eleven medals at the Rio Games, but all of them combined didn’t outweigh the significance of the one silver medal that saved a little boy’s life.

 

Sometimes the greatest champions finish second.

 

Piotr Malachowski is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know: Bill Porter

 

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“We work to become, not to acquire.”

-Elbert Hubbard

 

Bill Porter was born with cerebral palsy, in a world that is forever underestimating the power of the human spirit.  Fortunately, his parents did not.  They valued their son’s dignity, as well as the dignity of work.  So when the time came for him to get a job Porter got busy looking.  He never considered going on disability an option, although he certainly met the medical requirements. He had great difficulty walking, struggled with chronic pain, and spoke with a speech impediment.

 

His greatest obstacle, though, was not his physical health, but the perceptions of would-be employers.  So after years of hearing the message that he was unemployable, he naturally chose to be a door-to-door salesman.  I kid you not.

 

The Watkins Company in Portland, Oregon gave him a chance, and that’s all he needed.  For forty years Porter walked seven to ten miles a day, five days a week, knocking on doors, cold-calling potential customers, selling a variety of home care products…for forty years.  That in itself is worthy of celebration; the fact that he became the company’s top salesman is icing on the cake.  Bill Porter will tell you on his website that at almost 80 years-old now he is no longer able to walk his route, but is still working and growing his business thanks to the internet.

 

What better time than Labor Day Weekend to consider the strange confusion that exists for many about work; that it is a curse, a burden we must all bear until we finally reach retirement and can afford to stop working.  But the virtue of industriousness redefines (or better, reclaims) what work really is.

 

Industriousness says that work is about starting and finishing tasks with diligence.  With diligence?  At first this sounds a bit compulsive, but consider what diligence means; “to love, to appreciate, to choose after careful consideration and attention.”  Love through your work, appreciate through your work,  and carefully consider and attend through your work.

 

The virtue of industriousness is about working to become, not just to acquire.  And the virtue of industriousness insures that our work, in both our professional lives and in our personal lives, will give us a sense of dignity and true self-worth.  

 

Bill Porter did not have to “work,” in the narrowest sense of the word.  He could have sat at home and collected disability checks.  He had several built-in excuses.  But he understood that he needed to work, not to survive but to thrive.  So do we all.  Work is the arena where all virtues can be developed, where we can change, and where we can change the world.

 

If you’re seeing work as a 40 hour a week grind, and part of a 40 year prison sentence, consider the industrious life of Bill Porter.  And then truly get to work!