I was destined to be a child psychologist. I did my Research Fellowship in Child Development and was heading into a Ph.D. program in Human Behavior and Development - and then I had a change of mind.appreciating the difference in each person

I lived in Kansas at the time, and my husband Rich was getting his Ph.D. in Medicinal, Bio and Pharmaceutical Chemistry - and I took a job at the Bess Stone Center, a Center for Mentally Disabled Adults.

On my first day at work, I was introduced to Larry, a 24-year-old mentally challenged adult. He was very tall and thin. Perhaps the most striking feature of his appearance was the wide suspenders that held up his pants. His teeth protruded and his head was over-sized. "His name is Larry," Mary Jean said to me. "He is 24 but has the mind of a 2-year-old." He doesn't talk. He just grunts. As she spoke those words, his head tilted, and I immediately knew he understood her harsh words. Larry looked different, and even though his outward appearance was unusual; I was about to learn that there was much wisdom beneath his surface.

Larry, who did not possess the ability to communicate through words, put his talents to work. He made an invention by inserting the 'foil' from the inside of a ketchup bottle top into a clothespin. Larry could gaze into the small foil 'rear view mirror' for a fully encompassing view of the world. He used his invention to watch the man who came to polish our floors once a week. Larry watched the up-and-down motion in his 'rear-view' mirror, and once his mind mapped the rhythm he was able to imitate floor polishing even when the polisher was not there.

I asked him if he wanted to 'try it' and sure enough, Larry polished the floors everyday and became one of the best floor polishers ever. Then he took me outside and motioned with his arms that he wanted to polish the grass. After it clicked in, I realized he wanted to transfer his new found skills to learn to mow the grass. And he did. He became the best grass mower we had ever seen.

Larry's energy and passion for learning became contagious. Soon enough, everyone at the Bess Stone Center became alive in a new way. Bertha wanted to play the piano, and she did, in her own way. Albert wanted to have 'money in his pocket' and so Mary Jean gave him money to carry to the store for food shopping. Mark wanted to build a house, and so we gave him some wood to build a miniature house which upon its completion was donated by the Bess Stone Center to its 'sister home' for mentally disabled children. The local newspaper heard about the change at Bess Stone and wrote a feature story, which greatly inspired our small town in Kansas

Larry taught me about trust. Rather than see him as a 'retarded adult' with no capabilities to do much of anything, I saw him as a whole, creative human being. At the movement of contact, I experienced him as someone special, someone I wanted to get to know and understand, and someone of value.  Larry changed my life. He was one of the reasons I wanted to understand more about how our minds work, how our brains work, and why we do what we do.

Music to Your Ears

We can acquire wisdom from everyone. A man sat at a Metro station in Washington, D.C. and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
 

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw money into the till and without stopping, continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly, he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped and looked at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. Several other children repeated this action, yet all the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston, and the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell played incognito in the Metro station and was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people

Think about the labels that frame your world - narrow your appreciation, and stop you from seeing others through a lens of their strengths.

How do labels influence you? What do you perceive and why? Do you stop to appreciate what is going on around you? What blinds you? What influences your sense of reality? Do you recognize the talents of others in an unexpected context?

Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books: Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership.