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Spielberg Succeeds With Empathy
Trait: Resilience, Kindness, Compassion

Steven Spielberg is the most successful filmmaker ever. Everyone knows some of his blockbusters, such as Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Men in Black and E.T. What you may not know is how some of his early heartaches taught him to emotionally connect with his audience.

Once, when young 24-year-old Spielberg was directing a TV episode at Universal, the head of the camera department stopped an associate and said, ''You've got to go down to the soundstage. It's something you'll never see again. Your friend Spielberg is directing.''

The associate responded, ''I've seen people directing before.'' The camera man insisted, ''You've never seen a crew stand there and cry.''

So how did he learn the empathy that can't be taught in film school? Spielberg says that as a young person he experienced his grandmother's death with his family at her bedside. As a minority Jew in school, he experienced anti-Semitism through bullies. He learned what it's like to be an outcast, to be rejected. Fellow students thought he looked goofy and called him "Spielbug."

He learned the anguish of divorce by seeing his parents go through it his senior year. No one wants to experience these tragedies, but I doubt Spielberg could have learned to produce heart-felt films without them.

Says Spielberg, ''E.T. was about the divorce of my parents, how I felt when my parents broke up…. My wish list included having a friend who could be both the brother I never had and a father that I didn't feel I had anymore. And that's how E.T. was born.'' (© Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved. Source: Steven Spielberg, by Joseph McBride, Simon and Schuster, 1997, p. 72.)

For Discussion:

1) How did personal adversity help Spielberg empathize with others?
2) How do you think this helped his film career?
3) Can adversity help us with other careers besides filmmaking? In what way?
4) How can you identify with the way Spielberg felt put down during his school days?
5) How can understanding the benefits of adversity help us to deal with the adversities we now face?

How Would You Have Treated Him?
Trait: Tolerance

As a child he began talking later than normal. In school, he was regarded as a freak by his classmates because of his lack of interest in sports. His teachers considered him dull because he was poor at memorizing by rote. One teacher told him in exasperation that he wouldn't amount to anything, was wasting everyone's time, and should drop out of school immediately.

Would you have looked down on him? If so, you would have snubbed young Albert Einstein. (© Copyright 2002 Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved. Source: Albert Einstein: A Life, by Denis Brian, 1996, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

For Discussion:

1) How is it possible to be so smart, yet not recognized as intelligent by teachers or fellow students? (All of us have strengths and weaknesses. Some types of intelligence don't work well with school systems and don't translate into high grades.)
2) How do you think young Einstein would have fit in at our school? Would he have found a group of friends here, or would he have been an outcast?
3) How can understanding Einstein's background guard us from putting people into boxes?
4) Personal Reflection: What types of people that you snub and put into boxes? How can you overcome this lack of tolerance?

Jordan Learns From His Brother
(Traits: Learning, Cooperation, Diligence)

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan reigns as America's most popular athlete. He's mastered the game to such an extent that pro player Magic Johnson could say, ''There's Michael – and then there's the rest of us.'' (Rare Air, on front sleeve)

But he didn't just wake up one morning, pick up a basketball, and begin his lightning fast moves and stratospheric jumps, dunking baskets against giant defenders. Believe it or not, he was cut from the Varsity team his sophomore year in high school. So what did he do to improve?

One could argue that without the fierce, daily, one-on-one, back yard competitions with his older brother Larry, who was a better athlete at the time, Michael would have never developed his ability and confidence enough to compete at the game. Larry was his mentor as well as best friend.

For Discussion

1. How might Michael's life had been different had he never looked up to a mentor, or chosen the wrong mentor?
2. How can mentors help us succeed?
3. What should we look for in a mentor?
4. Is it okay to have more than one mentor?
5. Do you have a mentor? If not, who would be a good one?

Learn From Motivated Friends
Traits: Learning, Cooperation, Diligence

Basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbaar once said,

''You can't let people who aren't going anywhere influence your opinions.''

The opposite is also true. Make sure the people who are going somewhere do influence your opinions. This is a pattern in many successful people. They sharpen their skills and keep motivated by hanging out with those who have similar interests.

For Discussion:

1. How do you think these people's success was impacted by the people they hung around?
2. How can we often accomplish more with others than as a "lone ranger."
3. What is some area of interest you'd like to pursue?
4. How could you find others with similar interests? (School clubs, etc.) (© Copyright 2003 by Steve Miller - All Rights Reserved.

The Power of Put Downs
Trait: Acceptance

You'd think that Drew Barrymore had it all. Her acting success began by appearing on TV before her first birthday, then again at ages 2 and 4. She hit stardom at age 7 playing the little girl in Spielberg's smash hit, "E.T." At 7 years, she was the youngest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

You'd think she was living every child's dream. She had talent. She was famous. But inside, the little star was hurting.

Like a lot of us, she let the put downs of others, both at school and at home, make her see herself as worthless. When she botched up an in-class assignment, her teacher called her stupid and said she would never amount to anything. Like most of us, she acted like it didn't bother her. But in her own words,"

''I wanted to crawl inside myself and die. But there was no escape. I vowed not to show any emotion though. I sat there, stone-faced, crying on the inside and completely humiliated.''

The words of the insensitive teacher were reinforced by a group of cruel students who delighted in tormenting her. They hit her with books and called her names like pig, fatso, or saying her nose looked like Porky Pig's.

She countered by trying like everything to fit in. One day she got some surfer shorts with a spaceman design that she thought everyone would like. Instead, they burst out laughing when she walked into class, calling her a ''cosmic cow.''

Rather than realizing that she was important and could make something of her life, she believed their cutting words. In her own words,

''I just took their cutting remarks until, eventually, I let them completely undermine everything I knew to be true.'' (p. 99) She ended up ''feeling like the lowliest, homeliest, and dumbest creature at the place.'' (p. 124)

Let's reflect for a minute on what happened to Drew's picture of herself. Although she had a gift for acting and achieved fame by age 7, she believed people's cutting remarks to the point that she felt totally worthless. With the people around her as her only mirror to see herself, she felt dumb and ugly. Was her impression right? Not at all.

Ironically, this little girl who saw herself as a worthless failure, a ''cosmic cow,'' ''pig'' and ''fatso'' would later be chosen by ''People'' magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world. The girl that the teacher called ''stupid'' and ''headed for failure'' would be paid $26 million to star in the movies ''Ever After'' and both ''Charlies' Angels'' movies.

But at the time, she couldn't see her bright future. So, she turned to drugs to numb the pain. Big mistake. According to Drew, "The higher I got, the happier I imagined myself, the more miserable I actually was." Alcohol and cocaine put her in a rehabilitation facility by the age of 13. (pp. 5,6,10,124)

What can we learn from Drew? Here are some thoughts.

First, don't believe people's put-downs. Your conception of yourself may look nothing like you really are. Some of the most successful people in the world were put down mercilessly during their school years.
Second, drugs and drinking only make things worse.
Third, don't ever put students or teachers down, even if on the outside they seem to not care.

(Written by Steve Miller, Copyright May 6, 2002. Sources: Drew Barrymore with Todd Gold, Little Girl Lost, Pocket Books: New York, 1990;,+Drew )

For Discussion:

1. Why do we put others' down?
What could motivate us to stop?
3. Do you think most people are really hurt by put downs, even if they act like they're not? Why or why not?
4. Why don't they tell people if it hurts?
5. What are some ways you see people putting others down at school or in your neighborhoods?
6. How did Drew allow the putdowns to make her feel like a hopeless failure?
7. How can we keep from letting putdown's ruin our self-esteem, making us feel like worthless failures?

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