teachers, Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Sharp. Knowing his tragic background, Mrs. Anderson frequently remarked upon his drawings and would regularly make a point of holding up his drawings and praising his artwork in front of the class. In third grade, Mrs. Sharp supported his efforts, as well. “I strongly believe it was the validation from these great teachers that propelled me to
become the artist I am today,” Gary says. “It was the influence of these teachers—and of my mother—who set within me the idea that the work we do,and the greatest achievements we make are for the benefit of others. They instilled in me the idea of leaving as much of a positive legacy for others as I possibly can.” Interestingly, the path from tragedy to wisdom and caring moves far too often in the opposite way. In 1984, in the aftermath of the mass shooting of 21 people in San Ysidro, California, one of Gary’s coworkers, while listening to the news reports, turned in surprise and said, “Gary, that could have been you.” How could this have been Gary? The perpetrator, James Oliver Huberty, had endured a tragic childhood marked with crippling illness from polio, and was later abandoned by his mother. Embittered, he grew up to become a domestic abuser, grew increasingly violent and began stockpiling ammunition and guns. After his crime, the wife who had endured his violent behavior blamed his actions on everything from an unhealthy diet to the toxic fumes he’d inhaled in a prior welding career.
But for Gary, the meaning of situations like this one is clear: in cases of extreme tragedy, a person must make the fundamental decision as to whether to look inward and find a way to make good of the situation (as Frankl did) or to become embittered and cold.The influence of others who inspire is vital in the process of choosing to turn painful experiences to good. And ultimately, the desire to use one’s experience and learning to help others, rather than to enrich oneself, is where the greatest possibility occurs—the chance to enrich and influence thousands or millions of others for good. As we talked,Gary was reminded of a favorite image: the legendary Phoenix, injured and dying, that only through the experience of its suffering is able to achieve its destiny of arising from the ashes, empowered to spread its influence to others for generations to come.This is the way a legend is born. Cheryl Snapp Conner, award-winning journalist and content expert, is founder of SnappConner PR, developer of the Content University program for helping entrepreneurs and executives learn to excel in thought leadership. www.contentuniversity.com. To learn more about the Statue of Responsibility, visit the Responsibility Foundation at www.responsibilityfoundation.org.
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