Reach Out and Connect

(Watch the corresponding documentary "Tuesdays.")

What we learned from Scott Thomas: Go and love someone exactly as they are. Then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. He has evidenced to us that when a human feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, they are instantly enlivened and empowered.

A couple months ago this random guy had heard about “The Radiant Project,” and he said to me “It’s about nice people or something, right?” I laughed because first of all, boring; second of all, the radiant humans we feature are “nice,” but every single one of them pushes the people in their life past their comfort zones, which some people don’t like much. We didn’t really get to cover what Scott actually does in his classroom in “Tuesdays,” so I want to make clear that while he loves his students very much, he also sees and commands the best of them.

He teaches Honors Debate and Interpersonal Communications so his classes are founded upon speaking in public and connecting with other humans, two challenges that make people extremely uncomfortable. He will give a student he loves and knows deeply a C- if their speech isn’t well prepared; and if he sees a student holding back their truth and their heart in interpersonal communications he will call them out. And they don’t question his grades because they know for a fact he cares for them. He shows them every single day by acknowledging their positive traits, and doesn’t judge them if they aren’t always acting from that place.

Scott says, “I view every person as having their own disability. Everybody has what society would consider as something wrong with them.” Some of Scott’s power with people comes from that fact that his own vulnerability is so physically evident because of his cerebral palsy. Most of us can hide our vulnerabilities and weaknesses behind a mask; we can try to pretend we have it all together and we aren’t afraid or insecure.

Scott’s presence disarmed me, when I met him, because he immediately saw and loved me for all I was at that time. I can pretend to be perfect and unafraid with the best of them, but the amazing thing about being around Scott Thomas is you don’t need to pretend anything. He lays all his humanness out on the table. Our first time meeting him he cried in front of me, told me he was nervous, told me of his insecurities, told me about his pain, told me what he really wants, and he still tells Cami and me he loves us and we changed his life. He feels negative emotions, yet doesn’t respond to them in a volatile or neurotic way. Instead he chooses to act with love towards others because he knows they feel those same fears too. He allows himself to feel things deeply, then chooses to reach out and connect.

Despite the fact he is literally in constant pain (Stills disease symptoms include major arthritis in joints and subsequent flare ups that give painful acid reflux in the throat, fevers, muscle pain, and rashes), Scott says, “on a scale of 1-10 I’d give my life... a ten. Maybe nine and a half some days, but a ten.” He finds a way to be a giver, even through this constant distraction that could serve as the perfect excuse to be selfish and negative. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to experience this kind of chronic physical pain, most of our pain is internal and emotional. Regardless, we tend to take our pain out on the people around us, which is another way of begging them to love us anyway and help us heal our wounds. Scott has decided to be the type of person for others that he wants in his life. As one student, Marissa Templeton, put it, “He always always always asks how you’re doing.” Something as simple as sincerely asking how your day is going has made a historically huge difference in the lives of the people he surrounds himself with.

As Maya Angelou famously said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.” Mr. T’s students remember how he made them feel and come back to see him, even 10 years after they’ve graduated. In my understanding of him, Scott sees no reason to withhold his abounding love because he has faced his own mortality. We’ve heard the story many times from writers like Mitch Albom and Randy Pausch. They remind us to live like we are dying; they remind us of the legacy we really want to leave behind us. Do we want people to praise our career, talk about our accomplishments, examine how smart we were? Or would we rather have people celebrate us because we lifted them up, and made their lives better?

I think both legacies are valuable, but I think at my funeral, I want to know people felt fully loved and uplifted in my presence- that I helped bring joy into their life. Scott’s way of being has added more value to the world than we could possibly measure. He’s a classic example of someone who has no idea how many people he’s empowered, and true evidence of the long term impact one human can have by making a decision to be radiant every single day.