Positive attitude makes a difference

by Edward Henkler on December 16, 2014

The 28-Nov-14 Philadelphia Inquirer included a great article about a boy, Jonah Selber, who was initially assessed as severely retarded, “so damaged that he should be put in an institution for the rest of his life.” His mother refused to give up on him, through years of therapy, surgeries, and even the donation of a kidney. If this were a Disney story I might be able to tell you that he is now the CEO of a major corporation but that only tends to happen in Disney. The good news is that he is leading a productive life and has worked part-time for Thomas Jefferson Hospital for 17 years. He may not be self-sufficient, financially or otherwise, but he is a contributing member of society. In a world where at least 30% of individuals who are disabled are unemployed, this young man has avoided the all-too-common pitfalls of isolation, poverty, and low self-esteem. This didn’t happen by chance but through long term commitment to a positive attitude and a refusal to accept a societal judgment.

The story actually has a Disneyesque ending. His stepfather, Robert Schwartz, invited all of his children and stepchildren to join the Board of his foundation. As part of their compensation, each child receives $15,000 to donate to their favorite causes. Quoting directly from the article:

“Jonah donated $7,500 each to Jefferson and to Adults With Developmental Disabilities, a nonprofit based in Jenkintown that organizes social activities for people like him. It was Selber’s idea, Schwartz said, to fund a scholarship so that others less fortunate can take part. The organization honored Selber for his contribution at a ceremony in May. He delivered each word of his acceptance speech with precision. “In real life, people with disabilities can be very lonely and isolated,” he said. “I am lucky.”

Jonah Selber - differently-abled (Philadelphia Inquirer; 28-Nov-14)

Several lessons emerge from this story:

  • The first is the power of a positive attitude and never giving up. The outcome would have been very different had Jonah’s mother accepted the specialist’s initial diagnosis. The quality of his life would have been greatly diminished and it is likely that his parents would have shouldered a far greater burden.
  • It reminds us that marginalizing the life of someone who is differently-abled is more costly to society.
  • Finally, it demonstrates that “saving” a life can positively impact others, both through his contributions at Jefferson and through his donations.

I love the concluding comment that Jonah feels lucky – remember that next time life’s challenges seem too daunting!

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