Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Lesson for All Academics

Jeff Hadden describes a small encounter with his college European history professor that changed his life. 

A taste:

"I like history," I said to Dr. Riley, "but I can't get through history books. Can you recommend a few that are maybe a little more reader-friendly?" (Yep, I was quite the intellectual.)

Fortunately, he took no offense and recommended books such as Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels and Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory.

And I remembered why I liked to read.

He also gave me great advice. "Remember," he said, "you're reading for pleasure. If you pick up a book and don't like it, put it down. Never read what you think you should read. Never feel inadequate if you don't like what you're 'supposed' to like. Reading is personal. Yours is the only opinion that matters."

While I certainly can't draw a straight line from here to there--I took a 20-year detour in manufacturing--Dr. Riley is a major reason I'm now a writer. Without him, I'm not sure I would have found a love for great books and great writing.

And the conclusion:

Whatever you are today is largely due to the words and actions of other people. Most of those moments were, at the time, small and seemingly inconsequential. Only when you look back can you connect the dots.

That also means you never know when your words or actions might make an impact on someone else. A little encouragement, a little acceptance, a little praise...small actions that are insignificant to you but possibly life changing for another person.

Dr. Riley didn't know what my future might hold. Like all great teachers--and great people--he didn't care. He simply took the time to listen and encourage, and without knowing made a big difference in my life.

A nice reminder about why we do what we do.