The Beauty of a Friend’s Humility

He has won national and international awards, been awarded honorary doctorates (as well as the one he earned), and is renowned in thermodynamics research, communications/radio and teaching excellence.  To converse with him and listen to his mind work is a gift.  He was part of the most fulfilling stage of my higher education career, 1987-1994. He is John Lienhard, creator of the NPR radio show “Engines of Our Ingenuity.”   I still remember the time, almost three decades ago, when he and I went to lunch and he shared his concept for the show, and the first script.  It had been printed by a dot matrix printer.  Tonight, I attended one of his presentations.  All of his talents were on display, including humility.  It provided a great reminder.

After he finished his presentation about birds, planes and aerodynamics, he said to a NASA-heavy audience, “Now, if any of you have things you want to share about all this.  I know so little.”

The more accurate statement would be, “I still have much that I want to learn,” because John Lienhard definitely knows a lot more than “a little.”  He also has an insatiable desire to learn more.  And he is humble.

In the late 1980s, the national history competition had as its topic the role of technology in history.  Lienhard’s show had been underway for long enough to have a good library and I suggested to him that we provide the scripts to middle school libraries to serve as a resource to their teams for the competition.  In addition to his teaching, research and script writing, he managed to have his scripts converted onto three disk formats:  Mac hyperstacks, ASCII and DOS files.  When I made the suggestion, he liked the idea but wondered whether anyone would want them.  Humble.  When I left UH in 1984, I was working with a group in the Texas Medical Center that wanted to support John and his work. He was humbled that people were gathering together because of his show and to support him.  His plans were also coming together for a book and many years later his dream became a reality.

All that to say, even when you use your gifts and make a difference in the world, remember with humility how much more there is to learn, how much further there is to grow, and how much more you can do to improve the world in your own way.

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