All Things Human: What’s a “Human Bean?”

Aim high. Live better.

When my father was a boy, he stuttered horribly. His speech was so poor that he could rarely complete words, let alone sentences. His fellow students, even some of his teachers, mocked and ostracized him.  People can be cruel to those who are different.

But dad was a good natured kid and he never let it get him down. Later when he started work in the accounting office of a large multinational corporation in his early twenties, he got along well enough on his smile and sense of humor, and for a lot of people, that might have been enough. But my father was an optimist, and ambitious.  He wanted to excel. His speech impediment, which hadn’t improved much since his boyhood, didn’t help though.  At meetings he would either have to keep his thoughts to himself, or struggle to get sentences out while others in the room squirmed uncomfortably or, worse, completed his thoughts for him. As he puts it, “I nodded my head a lot.”

He searched for ways to unload the verbal albatross that hung around his neck. But what could he do? It was around this time he heard about a competition for public speaking at the corporation where he worked.

After talking with my mother, Rosemary, whose advice he always sought, my father decided to enter the contest. What better way to overcome the way he stumbled through the language every day than to publicly stand up in front of a group of total strangers and deliver a speech, and then let them judge him on his efforts. Tackle the problem head on, right? It seemed insane really. How could he possibly manage to utter a single articulate sentence while competing with others in the company who had smooth and elegant command of the language?

He wrote the speech out. “When I talked to myself,” he told me, “I didn’t stutter.”  Writing was a way of talking to himself. Once the speech was on paper, he would read it out loud. Then he stood in front of the mirror, gesturing, moving, delivering the words again and again until they seemed normal, effortless, fluent. How he longed to be fluent! Soon the paper became unnecessary. There was nothing but the words, and the sound of them as they flowed out of his throat.

Young coupleThat my father laid himself out there in front of a group of complete strangers after years of being ridiculed is amazing  to me. I don’t think I could have done it.  But even more amazing is the subject he chose for his speech. No one had tormented my father more then he had tormented himself. He couldn’t put two words together and was deeply ashamed. In his mind he was a mute idiot one day; the next a fool who stumbled over syllables as simple as b-b-but. He could have become angry and bitter. Many would have. But instead he took a larger lesson away from his experiences, and when he gave his speech the evening of the competition he shared his conclusions.

There are two kinds of people in the world, he told his audience. Life givers and life takers. You can choose to be one or the other. You can see the downside of life, you can resolutely focus on what is wrong with it, and you can concentrate on the negative because God knows there’s plenty of it. Or you can be a life giver, celebrate curiosity and the joy of discovery, find a way to bring something positive to whatever you do and to the people around you. By doing this, bit by bit you will contribute something worthwhile to the world. Look at life like a business — you can build assets or liabilities. Build assets. There is no upside in focusing on the downside.

As I thought about the best way to explain what a human bean is, I realized this story summed it up better than anything else I could write.  A human bean is a playful way of identifying yourself as a life giver; someone who is curious, intelligent, broad minded; a person who who tries to bring their best game to everything they do every day. Someone who isn’t simply a human being, but a humane being.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who consider this naive or even simple minded, but nothing in what my father said that night, and imparted later to me and my sister as we grew up, suggested that we be blissfully ignorant or Pollyanna-ish.  The opposite. His advice acknowledges that life is light years from perfection, but despite that, it’s important to aim high, press on and resolve to live better. Give what you can simply because you owe it to yourself, and in that giving, live confidently in the knowledge that good things will follow.

So think of becoming a human bean as a kind of social experiment. Have some fun with it. It might be interesting to see how many human beans it takes to make a better world. If you’re interested in joining in, click here to learn more. No strings attached. Become part of a community of life givers — curious, smart, good people with a common interest: understanding why we are the way we are and then use that knowledge to live better. We’ll make a place where you can interact with that community, and enjoy its benefits. Maybe by understanding ourselves a little better, we can live a little better as well, and make the world a little better too. No downside in that.

Your fellow human bean…

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