Culture

Student Survival Tactic: Think Big

Most folks first became aware of Dr. Benjamin Carson when he dared to speak out against Obamacare in front of the architect himself at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. I had the privilege of meeting Ben Carson about 20 years earlier when my mother handed me his book Think Big. At the time, I was an above-average student who struggled in the public school environment. Despite being intellectually acceptable (but economically unqualified) for entrance into a prestigious private school, my own public institution refused to allow me to skip a grade because they felt I’d suffer socially.

As if being the #1 nerd in the room qualified me to be crowned Prom Queen.

An outcast, I’d spend most of my time feigning illness or sick with stress, looking for a reason – any reason – to get out of going to school. I knew my mother was right; I couldn’t run away forever. But, I didn’t have a reason to care enough to face my battles. What I needed then is what so many young people need now: A perspective greater than their own. They need to learn how to Think Big.

And so my mother encouraged me to encounter the story of Ben Carson, a young African American boy from the projects who rose out of the ghetto mindset by seeking a perspective greater than his own:

“I am convinced that knowledge is power – to overcome the past, to change our own situations, to fight new obstacles, to make better decisions.”

Carson’s illiterate mother required her 2 sons to turn into her 2 book reports a week. This practice turned Carson into a habitual reader, classical music listener, and Jeopardy! aficionado. His love of learning and imaginative fascination with science developed into the desire to become a neurosurgeon:

First, we cannot overload the human brain. This divinely created brain has fourteen billion cells. If used to the maximum, this human computer inside our heads could contain all the knowledge of humanity from the beginning of the world to the present and still have room left over. Second, not only can we not overload our brain – we also know that our brain retains everything. I often use saying that “The brain acquires everything that we encounter.”

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Yet, unlike many intellectual role models, Carson cultivated a sense of humility and a strong faith that shaped his view of himself and his purpose on earth:

“I have to come to realize that God does not want to punish us, but rather, to fulfill our lives. God created us, loves us and wants to help us to realize our potential so that we can be useful to others.”

This combination of knowledge, creativity and humble faith taught Carson to Think Big:

“Once you begin to understand and realize what you are capable of, the whole world changes,” he says. “When I was in the fifth grade and I thought I was a dummy, I was relatively depressed. That’s probably why I was angry all the time. But once I discovered through reading that I could control my own future, it was like someone had lifted a veil; I couldn’t get enough knowledge at that point. Everything that was new was exciting to me, and I began to think about what I was going to do, how I was going to change the world.” He pauses and seems to reflect on his profound childhood transformation before finishing his thought. “I had the same brain, just a different attitude.”

Thinking Big granted Carson the freedom to think critically, creatively and independently:

“I can’t remember how many times during my medical career I was told, “You can’t do that; no one has done that before” or “Do you think all the incredibly bright people who have preceded you didn’t think of that?” Certainly, if I had listened to those comments instead of critically analyzing the problems and using the triumphs and mistakes of others to produce innovative solutions, my career path would have been considerably different. We have these magnificent brains with outstanding reasoning ability in order to be creative and to critically analyze what we hear and see. We must stop acting like pawns and start acting like masters of our own destiny.”

As well as lovingly:

 “Everyone in the world worth being nice to. Because God never creates inferior human beings, each person deserves respect and dignity.”

At an age when youth struggles to find their identity within an undifferentiated egomass, Carson’s challenge to Think Big makes the bold statement that difference is not a disability, but an opportunity to be exactly who you are meant to be.