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This is the first of a series of comments on David Brooks’ book.

David Brooks nails it with his new book,The Social Animal.  After looking at all the great research going on these days into human behavior, one of his core conclusions is that the emotional connections we make throughout life determine who we are, and who we can become.

Brooks cites several research studies about the importance of student-teacher connection when it comes to student achievement. One comment from a great interview on San Francisco’s KQED radio show, “Forum” with Michael Krasny: “I came across one researcher who said that if you want to know who is going to drop out of school, go into… when you go into a school and ask the kid, ‘Who’s your favorite teacher?,’ and if they give you an answer to that question, that kid will not drop out.  If they look at you as if that question is absurd then those kids are at risk.”

That human connection is even more important than grades and SAT scores.  It’s about self-determination, which is so critical to happiness and productivity.

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“Love liberates,” declares the great octogenarian poet, Maya Angelou.  In two words, Angelou articulates the second trait of the most admirable, creative and joyous people—whom I call the good among the great.

The trait is to be loving; and to have deep, long-lasting loves; and for those loves to be highly respectful of the person adored.  These are loves that don’t smother or bind, even when between parent and child.

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Gratitude is the heart’s memory.
–French Proverb

“There’s always something to be grateful for.” So says Rachel Walton, a hospice nurse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s a remarkable statement coming from a woman who is around death and grieving all the time. “Sometimes I think about the fact that I can see. It opens me up. It opens up my vision. I realize all the beauty around me. And when you have that kind of awareness, you start tapping into the heart.”

Being appreciative or “tapping into the heart” is another way that exceptional human beings steer and enrich their own lives as well those of others. With Walton’s help, we can understand the real power of appreciation.

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If Abraham Maslow is correct and only 1 percent of us are truly healthy psychologically, then we have to be alert to those who are.  Once you’re familiar with the 19 Traits that he identified, this 1% of extraordinary people are quite easy to spot.

For an example, you need look no further than a November 6th New York Times profile of Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.  It’s titled “A Duchess With a Common Touch,” and with that title alone you know that this person has at least one of the 19 Traits– she is egalitarian.

We quickly learn that this 90-year old aristocrat “transformed Chatsworth, one of the grandest of England’s grand houses from a museum-like relic into a family house and a self-sustaining business.”  Which of the Traits does the old Duchess exhibit?

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In “Blowing Smoke,” the latest and second-to-last episode of Season 4 for AMC’s Mad Men, Don Draper throws a curve ball, not only at the public and clients, but at his own firm, when he writes a full-page ad in the New York Times divorcing himself and his business from big tobacco. He faces ridicule from competitors, skepticism from clients and hysteria from his own partners. (More Information about “Blowing Smoke”)


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