Tag Archives: Empathy

My Other Family

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Scott Drotar Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29th, 2005, and in doing so changed my life forever.

I will always remember August 2005 as the time when I moved away from home, started my collegiate career, and began living as an adult on my own. While these were all monumental moments that were major milestones in my life, there was another event that occurred at this time that was much more important and influential. The impact of this occurrence was felt for years by millions of people all over the country, and its effects are still being felt in some areas, but it also had an unexpectedly large effect on my life as well. This awful moment that took place the last few days of August was Hurricane Katrina. This terrible event killed hundreds of people, ruined the lives of thousands more, and damaged the entire nation, but even with all of this carnage and mayhem, thanks to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit some good did come out of this horrible destruction. I will never forget that night Katrina hit, sitting in the chapel with my new dorm brothers, hoping that everyone’s family and friends were alright. As I sat there with my dorm brothers from the New Orleans area, as they were watching and waiting helplessly to hear from their loved ones, I learned an important lesson about life. This tense, stressful time filled with prayer and brotherhood showed me the power of community.

I was only 18 years old when I moved away from home and began living in the dorms at Notre Dame. Like every teenager on the cusp of adulthood, I thought I had everything in life figured out, and I was certain that my transition from living in a tiny, Midwestern town to being on a college campus with a graduating class larger than the population of where I grew up, would be a piece of cake. Also like most young adults, I could not have been more wrong. Almost as soon as I got to campus and began freshman orientation, I was in culture shock. I had spent my entire life in a one stoplight town of barely 2,000 people, nearly all of whom were white, Middle-class families, and now I was in an environment with over 10,000 students from all over the world and from every background you can imagine. I will admit, I was a little overwhelmed and taken aback by this huge shift in my surroundings. I do not want to give the impression that I was not enjoying my new life away from home or that I was not making friends, but for my first couple weeks on campus, even though I was trying to be very active socially, I never felt like I was really connected to my dorm brothers and other fellow “Domers.” This all changed though on the night of August 29th, when one of the worst hurricanes in our nation’s history struck New Orleans.

While I had been aware that a large hurricane had been heading for the United State’s gulf coast area, I really had not been paying too much attention to the specifics of this storm. Since I had no family or friends in that region, to me it was just another hurricane that the weather forecasters were trying to dramatize for higher ratings (“storm of the century” and “snowpocalypse” come to mind). The evening Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, I was going to check my mailbox that was down by the dorm’s chapel, and I noticed that there was a pretty big group of guys in the pews. This seemed a little strange to me, since there was no priest in the room and was not time for mass yet anyway, so I decided to see what was happening. As soon as I entered, before I even spoke to anyone, I could feel from the atmosphere of the room that something terrible had happened. I sat in the back next to an upper classman I had gotten to know during orientation, and once I was certain he was done praying, I quietly asked him what was going on. He explained to me how bad Katrina was, that currently there was little to no communication with people in that area, and that they were all praying for their loved ones and hoping they were safe. Looking at all of the red eyes, tears, and silently moving lips of prayer that surrounded me, I immediately felt bad for my new “siblings,” and the terrifying unknown they were currently in. Even though I am not Catholic, or even what you would call “religious,” I stayed there with my new brothers of Keough Hall and silently supported them with my presence. When one of them stood up and said that some of them were going to light candles at the Grotto, I decided to go along to offer any solace I could.

Scott Drotar Grotto
The Grotto on the University of Notre Dame campus, made famous by the movie, “Rudy,” is a very sacred place.

For those of you who are not familiar with the University of Notre Dame campus, have not seen the movie “Rudy,” and are not Catholic, I will give you some background. First, the “Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes,” or just the Grotto, is a miniature replica of the French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette multiple times in the mid-19th century. Father Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, was so awed by the beauty and divinity of the original site, that he vowed to recreate it in some form on campus. It contains a stone from the original site in France, and it is one of the most sacred places on campus. Every evening, no matter how cold or wet it may be, the Rosary is prayed, and there is rarely a moment when there is not someone kneeling before the statue of the Virgin Mary, lighting a votive candle, and saying a prayer. Which brings us to the second topic to cover, the act of lighting candles in worship. I believe some other faiths do use candles as symbolic offerings during worship and prayer, but it is most widely known as a Roman Catholic tradition. While I am not Catholic, as best I can understand it, the lighting of a candle during prayer is a symbolic offering of devotion when you pray for someone or something. Generally, you light a candle for someone specific, and that flame is representative of your prayer. This is a very special and holy act that is quite sacred, and it is typically only used during difficult or trying times, like the night Katrina made landfall.

It was a dark, balmy August night as my dorm brothers and I made the quarter mile trek over to the Grotto. I do not think anyone said a word during the entire walk. There was nothing to be said anyway, as we all knew how each other was feeling, and there were no words that could make things better. When we arrived at our destination, some guys lit candles, others were kneeling with their rosary beads gripped tightly in their devoted hands, and a few, like myself, simply took a seat before the Virgin Mary, but we were all doing the same thing in our own way. We were all praying, not just for our own family’s safety, but for the safety our new brothers‘ families as well. This moment of destruction and terror had forged between us a bond that we would carry with us the rest of our lives. We now belonged to two families, our biological family and our Notre Dame family. Sharing in each other’s pain and suffering that night brought us together, and it did not matter what our backgrounds were, because we were all in the same family. Our group slowly dissipated as guys slowly trickled back to the dorm, but I will never forget how I felt walking back to my room that night. In just the couple hours I was out that evening, I had gone from a home sick, culture shocked fish out of water to a confident man with over 200 new brothers that I could count on. After that night I never felt like I did not belong or wonder if I was fitting in around the dorm, because I knew that we were all family.

Scott Drotar My Other Family
My second family is so precious to me that I have the Notre Dame logo and my graduation year tattooed on my chest.

I am not trying to compare my relationships with my parents and siblings to my relationships with my dorm brothers, as that is comparing apples and oranges, but this connection I formed that night in the Grotto is something special. It showed me the strength of banding together in a common goal, and how by coming together in your shared pain you can alleviate your suffering. Most of all though, this story teaches you the power of community and brotherhood. In that one evening, we created a union between us that to this day is extremely strong and has a major impact on our lives. If you have the courage to open up and let yourself feel with others, empathize with them, and support them without judgment, you can harness the true power within your hearts and minds. Whether you call it resilience, the might of the human spirit, or something else entirely, you will know it when you feel it, and its impact will last a lifetime. The force of this banding together will pleasantly envelope you and help you overcome whatever you are going through together. Sharing this powerful, emotionally charged experience will create a connection between you that will never weaken. It is a bond forged in the fires of suffering and despair, and like iron hammered on a hot anvil, it is unbreakable. It is a relationship you can only describe as family, and just like your original family, you will be much happier having these amazing connections in your life.

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His Greatest Achievement

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Scott Drotar Lifetime Achievement Award
My father was given a lifetime achievement award for his more than two decades of service to the students of John Glenn High School.

This year the school district where my father works awarded my very deserving dad with a lifetime achievement award for his nearly 25 years of service as a teacher and coach to the students of John Glenn High School (JGHS). In bestowing this prestigious honor upon him, I am sure that they will bring up the numerous teams he has coached, the dozens of different classes he has agreed to teach over the years, and his work to improve the school’s AP program for college bound seniors. While all of these accomplishments are worthy of praise and recognition, these types of things are by no means his greatest achievements as an educator. His most important accomplishments as a guide for his students did not occur in the classroom, on the football field, or softball diamond, and the impact that he has made is far more valuable than any tackling technique or test score. His greatest feats as a teacher are things that his students will remember and carry with them for the rest of their lives, as they mature into successful, happy adults.

One Summer several years ago, I had gone out with my father to run some errands around town, and he needed to stop by the high school to grab something out of his classroom. As he ran down to his room to grab whatever he wanted to pick up, I decided to stop in the school’s main office to say “hello” to my old guidance counselor. While I was in the office talking about my time at Notre Dame and such, the newly hired assistant principal of the school walked in. After introducing ourselves, I came to find out that even though he was now going to be my dad’s superior, he had actually been a student of my father’s years before at another high school. This was strange enough to hear, but as I was waiting on my dad to return, this young administrator told me a story about my father that I will always remember. Not only will this story forever remind me of how amazing and wise my father is, but it is a great example of the way he has made a lifelong difference in the lives of so many of his students.

Scott Drotar Young Teacher
Even as a young teacher and coach, my father was extremely devoted to making an impact on the lives of his students.

When my father was just starting his career as a high school teacher, he worked at a school in a rural, farming community in Northern Indiana as the government teacher and football coach. During this time, the new assistant principal of JGHS was a senior and both a student of my father’s as well as a player on his varsity football team. He was a popular guy and a leader on the team with a bright future ahead of him, but as so often happens with hormone crazed teens however, life happened, and he and his girlfriend got pregnant. An unplanned pregnancy is something that fully grown, mature couples can barely deal with, and for a couple of high school kids, who cannot even buy a lottery ticket, this type of situation is even more impossible to manage. A few days after learning this life altering news, this young father-to-be went to speak to my dad after school one day to discuss how it may affect his ability to remain on the football team. It was this conversation with my father that this young man credits with having the greatest impact on him during this trying time in his life. He even believes that without my dad’s guidance that he would not have been able to overcome this adverse set of circumstances and create a successful life.

After hearing about his life changing situation, my father had this troubled teen take a seat in one of the student desks in his classroom, and my dad sat down in a desk right across from him. Out of everyone this adolescent had spoken to about the pregnancy, this 18 year old was being talked to and treated like a man for the first time, because that is what he had to be now that he was having a baby. My father did not talk down to him as an adult to a child, but instead like a man, an equal, advising another man. My dad basically said that the most important thing was to do right by this child, and that he would have to sacrifice some things in order to make this kid his number one priority. My wise father did not pretend to have all the answers or know what to do, but by helping this young man gain some perspective and re-prioritize his life, he got him on the right track to overcoming this difficult situation. While he did not receive any specific advice on how to move forward, the scared, 18 year old kid that entered my father’s classroom that day left that room a much more confident, mature young man, thanks to the wisdom and guidance of my incredible dad.

This emotional, inspirational story about how my father helped this distraught teenager keep his life on track was moving enough on its own, but the look on the face of the now assistant principal made it even more powerful to hear. As I listened to him recount this tale from his past, I could see the tears welling up in his eyes as he remembered how my father had made him feel that day many years ago. The look on his face and the inflection in his voice made it obvious how much that conversation meant to him, and the immense amount of gratitude and respect he had for my dad because of it. You could tell that this young administrator truly believed that if not for the guidance of my father, he would not have been able to keep his life in order, graduate from high school, raise a family with his high school sweetheart, and become a high school principal. And while you would think that this sort of life altering event would be a one time occurrence for the careers of most teachers, and for lesser men than my father that would probably be true, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for Mr. Drotar. I cannot begin to tell you the number of former students and players we have bumped into over the years who have that same look on their face when they come up and shake my dad’s hand. Even though most of these thankful individuals did not have anything as life changing as a teen pregnancy to deal with, they all had the same feelings of respect and admiration for my father and the way he treated them as adolescents. They are all grateful for the way he treated them as young, emerging adults and the life lessons and wisdom he was always willing to share.

Scott Drotar His Greatest Achievement
My father has accomplished many things during his career, but his greatest achievement are the successful individuals out in the world whose lives he has touched.

Anyone who has worked with my father for any length of time would definitely agree that this recognition of his years of dedication and service to the students of JGHS is much deserved and long overdue. While this award may focus on his students test scores and the number of winning teams he has put on the field during his career, the people who really matter, the thousands of young men and women who have sat in his classroom, know that his greatest professional achievements have little to do with academics or athletics. His greatest accomplishments as a teacher are the happy, successful individuals that were able to grow into functioning members of society thanks to the wisdom my father passed on to them. These life lessons and guidance will never show up on any spreadsheet of test scores or in a box score of a high school football game, but that does not mean that they are not important. If anything, the fact that these words of wisdom he has shared with so many young minds were done without any recognition or acclaim makes his sage-like guidance that much more incredible. I want to say congratulations to my incredible father for this much deserved award for his life of dedication to his students. I am so extremely proud that I get to introduce you as my father, and I hope that the wisdom you have imparted on me has helped me to grow into a man that you are proud to call your son. You are a terrific teacher, an amazing coach, and most of all a phenomenal father. I love you and hope that you enjoy your time in the spotlight (although I know you will want to return to your spot behind the scenes as quickly as possible).

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Scott Drotar Fabio
Society has created an image of what it means to be a man that is difficult for many men to live up to.

The idea of manhood and what it means to be a man is something that every guy has to figure out during his life. This is not an easy task, as society has built this image of the prototypical man as the muscular, dark, and handsome men we see on the cover of romance novels, that most people can never live up to. While I am not saying that Fabio is not a man by any means, I do think there is a lot more to manhood than being physically strong and able to protect and provide for your mate. There are so many other traits that are equally, if not more, important to being a man than physical ability. I didn’t come to this realization quickly or easily however, and I actually struggled with my own identity and manhood for a long time (because if there is an opposite to Fabio, it is me). It was not until a strange turn of events my third year in graduate school that I was able to gain some insight into the notion of manhood and apply it to my life.

It was about 11:45pm one balmy evening in August, and as usual I was going through my bedtime routine, when one of my closest friends, who we will call Carrie, sent me a text. This would not have been anything special, because we texted constantly pretty much every day, but Carrie knew my nightly activities and that I rarely touched my phone after 11:00pm, so this was a little weird. Since her text seemed strange to me, I pulled it up and read, “Are you up?” I replied, “Barely. What’s up, lady?” To which she quickly responded, “Can you call me? I need to talk to you.”  Now I was starting to worry a bit, because this was really out of character for Carrie, so I wheeled into my bedroom for some privacy and gave her a call. After two rings, she picked up, and I said, “Hey there. You Ok?” A few seconds later, through tears I heard, “No. I’m not Ok.” I was now very concerned, so I slowly responded, “Alright. What can I do to help?” Her voice was cracking, but she softly asked, “Would it be alright if I come by for a while? I just don’t want to be alone right now.” Of course I was fine with this, as she was like a sister to me and wanted to help her however I could, so I told her that I would be lying down, but I would be awake for a while and to come on over.

I had my nurse get me in bed, flipped on ESPN, and waited for her to arrive, but I don’t think I saw a single highlight due to my worrying about Carrie. About 15 minutes went by and I heard a soft knock on my door as she entered my apartment. Now, it is 90 something degrees outside and the middle of the night, yet Carrie walks in wearing sweats, a zipped up hoodie, and sunglasses. It was official, something was seriously wrong. I told her to shut the door to my bedroom and to sit down on the bed next to me. It was not until she removed her glasses and hoodie and sat down that I understood her strange choice in clothes and started to put things together. When I finally saw her tear streaked face as she sat down, I was shocked to see the worst black eye I had ever seen. Her black and blue, swollen face looked more like someone who had gone 10 rounds with Rocky Balboa than my best friend. I said to her, “Everything will be alright,” and then we just sat next to each other for several minutes before she broke the silence and began telling me what had happened.

Scott Drotar Manhood
My beautiful friend was barely recognizable due to the bruising from her attack that afternoon.

I am not going to go into great detail to protect my friend’s privacy and to keep this short, but here is the gist of what she had been through. She had been out of town that afternoon to go to a viewing, and as she was on her way home that evening, she had to stop for gas. While she was filling up, some random guy walked up to her at the pump and started shouting. Before she could even wrap her head around what was happening and why this crazy person was screaming at her, this man grabbed and pushed her, and then proceeded to poke her in the eye. Luckily, she was able to fend off any further attacks long enough for a bystander to intervene and pull the assailant off her. It turned out that this guy was actually mentally ill and off of his medications, and when the police took him away, they said that he had been in trouble before. While this explained his behavior, it didn’t make it any less traumatic for Carrie. Even though physically no permanent damage was done, mentally and emotionally she was really shook up.

I just listened as she slowly recounted the days events to me, and for one of the very few times in my life, I was at a loss for words (I am a professional speaker). I had no idea what to say, so I mustered up all of the physical strength I had, and then, without saying a word, I gradually moved my hand over to grasp hers. Her eyes were closed and she said nothing, but I felt her squeeze my hand and somehow knew that I was giving her what she needed. After probably 30 minutes of just sitting there with her, holding her hand, I gently said that she should lay down here and try to get some rest, and that I would be there with her until she woke up. I’m not even sure she opened her eyes, but without letting go of my hand, she slid down in the bed and pulled a blanket over herself. As I thought, she must have been exhausted, because it wasn’t even five minutes before I felt her grip on my hand loosen as she drifted off to sleep.

I was too concerned about Carrie to sleep myself, so I just laid there beside her and turned on some terrible, Steven Segal movie with no sound (which probably improved the movie now that I think about it). After about 45 minutes I was finally starting to fall asleep, when I heard a sort of whimpering coming from Carrie. I could see her face twitching and hands slightly moving, and it was obvious from the expression on her face that she was having a nightmare. I was not sure what to do in this situation, so I decided to do what my mom used to do for me when I had bad dreams as a child. I tenderly stroked her hand and softly said things like “Everything is going to be Ok,” “You are safe now,” and “I am right here.” Much to my surprise, this actually worked, as she fairly quickly stopped twitching, her face relaxed, and she returned to resting peacefully without waking up. I won’t lie, I was pretty proud of myself, but I was getting tired since it was now after 3:00am, so I closed my eyes and tried to get some sleep.

Once again, just as I was entering dreamland though, I heard barely audible noises coming from Carrie. She looked like she had before, so I repeated my previous approach of holding her hand in mine and softly comforting her. I was again successful in calming her down, and to try to help her sleep more soundly, I continued soothing her for a few minutes even after she was resting comfortably. I then went back to getting some shut-eye, but as you could probably guess, after about 15 minutes Carrie returned to her nightmare, so I repeated my regimen to comfort her. This process kept repeating itself, and after the fifth time or so, I realized that if Carrie was going to get any kind of restful sleep, which she definitely needed at the time, I was going to have to stay awake through the night to soothe her and make her feel safe. Since she needed sleep more than I did, I spent the whole night holding her hand and whispering to her until she woke up the next morning.

I woke her up fairly early because she had said she had an appointment the next day with an eye doctor to make sure there was no lasting damage from her attack. When she had woken up enough, she asked me if I had stayed up with her all night. I explained to her that I had and why, and with tears in her eyes she whispered, “Thank you,” kissed me on the forehead, and gave me a long hug that communicated so much more than words ever could. After she had freshened up a bit and was heading off to her appointment, I told her that everything was going to be fine and that I would check on her in a couple hours, but she could call me anytime if she needed me. There was one more thing I wanted to say though, but I didn’t. This was a question that had popped into my head as I laid there awake all night, and the more I thought about it, the more it puzzled me. This confusing thought was, of all of the people in her life, why had she chosen her 60 pound, disabled, wheelchair bound friend to make her feel safe? As far as being able to protect anyone goes, I am less than useless. I mean, at most I could get an attacker to kill me first to buy her time to run. Yet she had come to me anyway, and I had no idea why.

Since I tend to obsess over things I don’t understand, this idea ate at me over the next several days. Once Carrie had recovered some from this traumatic event and had gotten back to her old self for the most part, I decided to ask her about that night and why she had come to me instead of someone else. So as we were sitting at my kitchen table one afternoon, I told her how confused I was that she came to me that night, and her explanation changed the way I saw myself and the idea of manhood forever. Carrie said, “I wanted to be with someone who I knew, without a doubt, would literally do whatever they had to to make me feel safe and secure and loved. Someone who would stay awake all night just to hold my hand and make me feel secure so I could rest. And obviously, I chose well.” It was not the ability to physically protect her that was important. It was the willingness and mentality that I would do everything in my power to make her feel better that mattered.

Scott Drotar White Knight Night
Even though I am a whopping 60 pounds with next to no muscle mass, I am every bit a man as anyone else.

Her words made me think about what it means to be a man in an entirely new way. Being a man is less about physical strength, endurance, and the countless other cave man type qualities that usually come to mind, and more about mindset. If you don’t have the selflessness and empathy to put the well-being and happiness of others before your own, it does not matter how strong or tough you are, because you will only be worried about yourself. It is no good to have the dashing hero ride in on his white horse, if at the first sign of trouble he rides away leaving you to fend for yourself. It is much more important to be able to trust that the person you are with will give their all to take care of you, even if they have less physical ability. That is what Carrie needed that night, and I am happy to say that I was able to live up to her expectations and be the man she thought I was.

While I may ride in on my wheelchair instead of a stallion, I am happy that for one night, I was able to come in and save the day. My “white knight night,” as I call it, not only helped my best friend get through a very difficult time, but it also helped me to better understand what being a man is all about. Just because you are not as gruff and tough as the “Marlboro Man” or as suave and debonair as “the most interesting man in the world,” does not mean that you are not every bit as manly as anyone else. The concept of manhood is so much more than that, and it has a lot more to do with your mental and emotional abilities as your physical ones. I hope that all young males, whether they are physically gifted or not, take the time and invest the energy to really think about the notion of manhood and how it applies to who they are and their identity. This will not only ensure that the next generation of men will grow up to be the best fathers, husbands, and brothers they can be, but it will also help them to accept and be proud of who they are. And if my life is any indication, this acceptance of themselves and their manhood will bring a great amount of happiness and success to their lives.

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Labor Day Telethon

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For most people, the fact that Monday is Labor Day means that the banks are closed, there is no mail, and that you won’t have a hard time finding a cookout to get a juicy brat and a cold beer. As great as those things are, I like a good sausage as much as the next guy, for me Labor Day has always been about something much more special. For the first 18 years of my life, the fact that it was Labor Day weekend meant that it was MDA Telethon time. Every year growing up I would spend the majority, if not all, of this weekend at the local Fox television station raising money for MDA. So in recognition of MDA and the people who are devoting their whole weekend to helping others less fortunate than them, I thought that I would share with you what it is like for those two days straight on the air.

Scott Drotar Jerry Lewis
Although he is no longer the host, the MDA Telethon will always be linked to Jerry Lewis.

For those of you unfamiliar with the MDA Telethon, here is a little information, but you can find a lot more at www.MDA.org. While some small scale telethon type events were done for MDA in the 1950s, the modern MDA Telethon, which forever will be associated with the great Jerry Lewis, was first broadcast in 1966, and it went nationwide in 1971. The show is filled with various comedy and musical acts that perform so that people will tune in and donate to MDA. Some of the greatest entertainers of the last four decades, like Billy Crystal, Johnny Cash, and “The Rolling Stones,” have all been guests over the years. For the next 40 years Jerry Lewis hosted this 20 hour, all night broadcast every Labor Day, and in that time he raised an astonishing $2 billion to help eradicate neuromuscular diseases. In 2011 due to his failing health, Lewis stepped down as host, and the show was reduced to a six hour show. This year, the Telethon is called “The MDA Show of Strength Telethon,” and it is only two hours long on ABC on Sunday the 31st at 9pm EST.

As I said before, for a lot of years while I was growing up, since I was the regional MDA goodwill ambassador, I spent the majority of the 20 hour Telethon at the local studio. The way it would work is the national show, which is where Jerry would be hosting in Las Vegas, would periodically stop (a few times an hour), and the broadcast would switch to your local station’s telecast (each with its own hosts and such). Every local show would have interviews with people from the area who have been helped by MDA, donations from local businesses, and other little bits that show people that their generosity will help people in their own communities. What made this on again off again method a little bit tricky is that, although there was initially a schedule of when these cutaways (a term we use in the biz) would be and how long, every year by the third hour of the show we would be so out of sync that the itinerary was thrown out the window. This meant that we didn’t always have a lot of notice as to when we would be going live, so we had to be ready to go all the time. This made for a pretty chaotic and stressful environment at times, especially when you had already been going for 15 hours and were running on adrenaline, coffee, and Mountain Dew. That being said, I know I speak for all of us who have hosted over the years when I say that we loved doing it and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Scott Drotar Labor Day Telethon
For many years the MDA Telethon was an event for the whole Drotar family.

When I think back about my time on the Telethon as a kid, here are some of the things that come to mind (and remember that I was between 4 and 9 years old). I remember my family and I getting put up in this sweet apartment for the weekend, so that we would have a place for them to be while I was working, and I would have a place to rest if necessary. It was not only huge, but it even had a balcony overlooking a lake, and we fed ducks the crust from our toast in the morning. I remember getting fitted for a tuxedo for the first time. I looked like a gimpy “Monopoly Guy” or “Mr. Peanut,” complete with top hat and cane. The cane was confiscated from myself and another host around hour six though, because we were having a sword fight between broadcasts. I remember the smorgasbord of amazing food. Every hour a couple of restaurants would bring in a boatload of takeout for everyone working. There was fried chicken, pizza, shrimp egg rolls, and anything else you can imagine, and if they didn’t have it, they would get it the next hour. I remember the incredible individuals who I worked with. From the hosts to the cameramen to the people manning the phones, everyone involved with the Telethon was happy to give up their holiday weekend to help others. The electric atmosphere and common goal we all shared created a family-like bond between us that will last forever. I am still friends with some of the people who I only saw once a year when we would host together.

Scott Drotar MDA Telethon Host
By interviewing entire families, the Telethon shows people that these diseases effect more than just the person who is disabled.

Most importantly though, I remember everything that the Telethon and MDA have done for me, my family, and so many other people afflicted by a neuromuscular disease. Especially 20 years ago before the internet, Wikipedia, and instant access to any information, MDA was critical in educating families with a newly diagnosed child about their disability. They also provide affordable access to medical specialists for disabled people, as well as helping to pay for medical equipment and other adaptive technology to make life easier for those with muscular dystrophy. They also work to bring a better quality of life and new experiences to disabled people by holding events like MDA Summer Camp every year. Last but not least, MDA spends millions of dollars every year funding research to find cures and treatments for the more than 40 neuromuscular diseases they are fighting to eliminate. This money is what has allowed spinal muscular atrophy, my disability, to be named as one of the diseases most likely to be cured in the near future.

Although it is a very different show now than when I was hosting, the MDA Telethon still has the same goal and helps millions of people. This weekend, as you are enjoying your holiday with your family at the lake or cooking some burgers and playing horseshoes in the back yard, take a few minutes to think about those who by random chance are afflicted for life by a neuromuscular disease. Turn to ABC Sunday night and watch the amazing line-up of performers who are donating their services to help others, and if you are able, please call in and make a donation, because it is only through the generosity of people like you that this event can achieve its goal of ending muscular dystrophy. You can rest assured that I will be watching, and as much as I loved hosting the Telethon, I would love to someday spend a Labor Day weekend where I don’t tune in to this show because, thanks to the charitable contributions of people like you, it is no longer necessary.

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Book Review: “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson

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Scott Drotar Psychopath Test
In his book “The Psychopath Test,” Jon Ronson examines the idea of what it means to be sane.

It feels like it has been forever since I last made an entry into the Scott Drotar Literary Review. This week’s book, like many of the works I have reviewed, was something that I read as a result of my ever-growing TED talk addiction. I watched a talk by the best-selling author of “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” Jon Ronson, about psychopathy, and I was so intrigued by what he had to say that I quickly went to www.Amazon.com and purchased the book that spawned his talk, “The Psychopath Test.” The text version was even more interesting than Ronson’s talk had been, to the point that I had a hard time putting it down. This book is so thought provoking because it examines the pivotal question, and one that as a psychologist I have spent countless hours pondering, “How do you know you are sane?”

In “The Psychopath Test” Ronson takes you with him on his journey to examine the idea of sanity. He does this by looking more specifically at the mental disorder, psychopathy (sometimes called sociopathy). While technically psychopathy is not found in the DSM-5, the handbook containing all diagnosed psychological disorders, it is often lumped in under anti-social personality disorder. It is generally described as having a complete lack of empathy and conscience that allow individuals to function “normally” in society. These individuals are the epitome of “looking out for number one,” and they are often masterful social chameleons who can be deceptively charming, charismatic, and intriguing to achieve their goals. Since these people are incapable of conscience, they feel no remorse for their actions, and this means they will do anything and everything to get what they want. It is believed that psychopathy is untreatable, which means that once you are labeled a psychopath (which is done by taking a mere 20 question checklist), you will be treated as one for life. If the facts that psychopathy is not defined as a mental disorder and that a one-time, 20 question survey can give you this label forever doesn’t raise some red flags about the nature of this disease, and determining sanity in general, I don’t know what will.

While I don’t want to give away too much, Ronson uses these vague definitions and at best mediocre diagnostic criteria, as a jumping off point for his investigation into the world of insanity. He interviews a diagnosed psychopath who allegedly faked having a mental disorder to use the insanity defense to get out of a lengthy prison sentence, but ended up being diagnosed as a psychopath, which is lifelong and untreatable, and served over a decade in a maximum security hospital for the insane. He meets with a hugely successful former Fortune 500 CEO who, although never diagnosed with psychopathy, scored well above the threshold on the diagnostic test. It is actually believed by many that while in the general population the rate of psychopathy is about 1%, in the cut throat world of CEOs and hot-shot Wall Street brokers, where a lack of conscience is often an asset, the rate is as high as 4%. Ronson even meets with a convicted murderer, drug kingpin, and diagnosed psychopath for a polite lunch interview during his quest for the truth. These individuals are just the tip of the iceberg however (can you say scientologists?), as he leaves no stone unturned on his pursuit of uncovering the truth about what it means to be sane.

If the subject matter and the ramifications of the possible results of this journey through the world of psychology are not enough, the writing style of “The Psychopath Test” is also worth the price of the book. Ronson uses his unique, conversational style to put the reader inside his head to hear his thought process throughout the book. This is both entertaining and informative as you get to share in his inner dialogue as he converses with these criminally insane individuals over coffee. This style also does a great job of complementing the frequent dialogue depicting the many intriguing interviews he conducts with psychopaths and psychologists alike throughout the entirety of the book. I cannot think of much of anything that I would change about this look into our minds and what makes us the sane, normal people we think we are.

The question of what it means to be sane, as well as who and how we make this determination, is something that can drive you crazy (pun intended). Ronson does a magnificent job of shedding light on this quandary in a way that is entertaining and insightful. If nothing else, this book will make you start wondering which people in your own life would qualify as psychopaths, which is reason enough to pick it up. That is why “The Psychopath Test” gets a 5 out of 5 on the Roll Models Review Scale.

Roll Models 5 Chair Rating

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Don’t Burn Bridges

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As we travel through life, our social sphere is ever changing. Both the people in your life, and the strength of the relationship you have with each of these individuals, are in a constant state of flux. An important thing to keep in mind as you watch this revolving door of relationships is that just because someone may have left your social circle, that does not mean that they will not return. Our world is not nearly as big as we think it is, and we all have had occasions where we reconnect with someone we used to know several years before. It is for this reason, and I have my mother to thank for this one, that it is imperative to treat people well and to part ways with people on good terms. As my mom would say, “Don’t burn bridges.” You never know when someone you used to be familiar with could come back within your social circle and have the ability to improve your life. While this is something that I am always conscious of, thanks to the success of Roll Models, I have been reminded of just how rewarding it can be to make sure you treat people with respect and end relationships amicably.

Scott Drotar Tuxedo
My first tuxedo fitting before going on to emcee the Telethon.

As you know from my earlier posts, as I was growing up I did a lot of fundraising for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). The biggest MDA event of the year is the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. This is a roughly 36 hour marathon of non-stop broadcasting, where we ask people at home to call in and donate. While I have made at least an appearance on the Telethon almost every year that I have been alive, when I was goodwill ambassador I was on the air for the majority of the telecast. You get to know people pretty well when you spend that many straight hours together without sleep and hopped up on Mountain Dew, and one of the people who I had the privilege of getting to know is my friend, Dean. He was (and still is) one of the emcees for our local Telethon broadcast, as well as being the head sportscaster for our regional Fox station. We would see each other a few times a year at various MDA functions while I lived in the area, and we got to be fairly good friends over the years. Once I moved to Kansas for graduate school though, like too often happens, we fell out of touch.

Imagine my surprise when five years after last speaking to him, I get an email on my Roll Models email account from Dean. I had not told him about my new endeavor as a professional speaker, and we were not even in the same state, but somehow he had found my website. Since this initial email, we have gotten to catch up on each other’s lives, and even more importantly we made our friendship “official” on Facebook. As a result of our rekindled relationship, we are now working together to arrange a television interview with Fox to discuss Roll Models and possibly filming one of my Roll Models talks. This would be a great way to spread my message and advertise Roll Models, and it would have never been possible without the solid relationship between Dean and I that was created many years ago. By laying this solid foundation and slowly developing it over years of MDA events, I now may have an incredible opportunity to publicize Roll Models and pursue my mission to help others. Had I not put in the time and effort to forge this bond between us one conversation at time over several years, this amazing opportunity would never have been possible.

Scott Drotar Telethon Interview
My entire family would be interviewed on the Telethon to help show people that my disability creates obstacles for people beyond myself.

Another example of how people from your past can randomly and fortuitously come back into your life occurred to me just last week. When I moved out to Kansas after graduating from Notre Dame, with everything that I had going on trying to get my life established here, I did a terrible job of keeping in touch with most of my friends from college. I know that is an excuse, and a bad one, so I am not saying it was right, just that it happened. Last week I “liked” a Facebook status of one of my old, college roommates that I had pretty much completely fallen out of touch with. A couple days later I had a message from that roommate in my inbox. He said that while the content and such on www.scottdrotar.com is good, my design and layout need some work, especially my mobile site. Being a very talented, professional programmer and wanting to start freelancing, he said that he would be happy to help me, free of charge, to improve my website. I am really excited not only to have the opportunity to have someone as gifted as my old roommate giving me help (he is an amazing programmer), but also to get to reconnect with one of my best friends from college. Once again, I owe all of this good fortune on the strength of the relationship between my roommate and I. Had I not cultivated this bond so many years ago, I would never have been presented with this awesome chance to improve my business and spread my message.

These two scenarios are terrific examples of how people can, and will, find their way in and out of your lives in ways you would never expect. That is why it is so critical to build, maintain, and even end relationships in the most agreeable way possible, because you never know when someone will come back into your social sphere with the ability to change your life. I am not saying you should build connections with anyone and everyone who may be able to help you get ahead in life, regardless of whether you really enjoy their company. Insincerity like this will be sniffed out quickly, and it will make it very difficult to form any real relationships in the future. What I am proposing is mostly common sense. Be sincere and kind as often as possible, and treat people the way you would want to be treated. By following these two simple rules that you have been hearing since kindergarten, you will have no problem developing relationships with others that you will have no problem rekindling in the future. This will bring you stronger friendships, a larger social circle, and more happiness, and as you have seen in my two anecdotes, this can even present you with incredible opportunities in other areas of your life.

We all know the saying, “to get ahead in life, sometimes it is who you know, not what you know,” but this is incomplete. It is not just who you know, but also the way you know each other. If they remember you as this selfish, ex-roommate that would steal food from the fridge and never clean up, chances are they are not going to give you much of their time. However, if they remember you as someone who was considerate, hard working, and a good friend, even if you have not spoken in years, they will be much more likely to want to reconnect. As you have seen above, you never know what opportunities these new relationships with old friends can bring. Always treat people with kindness, even if you think you will never see them again. This is not just the right way to treat people, but your respect and appreciation towards others could be repaid to you in ways you would never expect down the road.

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A Feeling of Guilt

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Scott Drotar Lone Survivor
Watching movies like “Lone Survivor” always creates a feeling of guilt in me.

Last week I finally got around to seeing “Lone Survivor.” This movie, which is based upon actual events, recounts what happened to a group of Navy SEALS on a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan in June of 2005. While I don’t want to say that I enjoyed the movie or that it was good, it was well done, delivers a powerful message, and is definitely worth seeing. In fact, this is a film that everyone needs to see, and they need to see it for the same reason that it was hard to find enjoyable. It needs to be seen so that the incredible sacrifices made by our troops to help and protect people they don’t even know are remembered and appreciated. These men and women are willing to give anything, including their lives, to do what is right. Their selflessness and courage is something that I greatly admire and respect, but at the same time, their bravery and devotion also stirs up a feeling of guilt that I struggle to deal with.

Despite the fact that recruiters from every branch of the armed forces relentlessly called my house the moment I turned 18 (your tax dollars at work), being that I am physically disabled, I cannot join the military. While you probably wouldn’t think that this is a big deal, not being able to serve my country is something that has always bothered me. Even though I know that it is impossible to say with any level of confidence how I would feel if I was not disabled, and that it is easy to say this as I sit safe and sound in my wheelchair, I have always felt that if I was able to that I would have joined the military. I am certain I still would have gone to college, but I would have either done ROTC or joined the Reserves after graduating. Personally, I feel like this is something that I should do, and the fact that I cannot is a source of guilt for me, which is brought to the surface anytime I watch a movie like “Lone Survivor.”

Scott Drotar Guilt
I always felt a sense of guilt when I would be enjoying myself at a pep rally, while some of my dorm brothers were spending the weekend training for their upcoming service in the military.

I know some of you are probably confused by my feelings of guilt, especially since I have absolutely no control over the fact that I have SMA, so I will do my best to explain how and why I feel the way I do. Being a “world power,” the United States constantly has thousands of troops stationed around the globe. If our Commander and Chief decides that the military needs 30,000 more soldiers, then one way or another, it is going to happen. Since our leaders are going to get their troops, by me not serving, someone else — someone’s parent, spouse, or child — is going to have to go in my place. Why should I get to sit at home, watch Jimmy Fallon, and eat Cheetos, while they are risking their life just hoping to get home to their family in one piece? Is my life worth more than theirs? If I am going to go through life trying to spread a message of equality for disabled people (and in actuality all people), then it would be pretty hypocritical for me to value my life more than anyone else’s. It is this double standard in which the very people who I ask to treat me as an equal are the same people who have to put their lives on hold to serve in my place, that generates the guilt that I feel.

Scott Drotar ROTC
I always had a lot of respect and admiration for my dorm brothers who participated in ROTC.

I first started to feel this way, or at least understand why I feel this way, when I was in my first semester of college at the University of Notre Dame. I would be leaving my dorm to head off to my first class of the day at 8:30a.m., and I would see some of my dorm brothers dressed in fatigues walking back to the hall. I was barely half awake and pissed off that I had to be in class at 9:00a.m., but these guys had already been up for three hours for ROTC training. Being a lowly freshman, I was still figuring out how to balance classes, work study, and having a social life, and they were doing everything that I was doing while also fulfilling several hours of ROTC requirements every week. Not only that, but they also had agreed to serving a minimum of two years in the military after graduating. These were young men my age, some still teenagers, and they had volunteered to serve their country, even though they would have a college degree from one of the top universities in the country that would allow them to do whatever they chose. Their selfless choice to serve their country and protect people they have never, and will never, meet caused me to rethink how I viewed serving in the military. It was this period of reflection that made me see what an honor it is to join the military, how much of a sacrifice our troops make, and created the sense of guilt that I feel because I cannot serve.

I don’t want to give the impression that I roll around all tortured inside because I cannot join the military. That is not at all what I am trying to say. I also don’t want to give the impression that I think that everyone should serve in the armed forces. I am saying that when I think about our troops and everything they are sacrificing so that others don’t have to, and the fact that some of these selfless men and women will not come home, I feel guilty that I cannot repay their incredible act of valor. Regardless of how you feel about world politics or the military in general, I hope you appreciate and respect the sacrifices made by our troops and do everything you can to support them and their families. Always remember that by them serving, it means that you do not have to. Take a few moments to think about everything they are giving up to defend what is right, and if you are given the opportunity, thank them for their service. This simple thank you may seem trivial compared to everything they have sacrificed, but I assure you, to these amazing men and women it will mean more than you can ever imagine.

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Full Circle

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Since starting www.scottdrotar.com and creating Roll Models, I have been fortunate enough to network with other disabled people with websites, blogs, and Facebook groups. As a result of interacting with these incredible individuals, I have become an active member of several forums and Facebook groups that are devoted to topics like spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), wheelchair users, and disabilities in general. These groups are great places for people who have recently been diagnosed to get information and ask questions about living with a disability. As I have become more and more active in responding to people’s inquiries and sharing my experiences, I have been reminded of the importance of passing on your unique knowledge and experiences to others. This idea is the whole point of Roll Models, but it is so much bigger than that. What is the point of having a lifetime of wisdom, if you are not going to put it to use helping others? I know that my life would have been much more difficult if not for the advice and guidance of other people, and that is why I am so passionate about sharing what knowledge I have. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity and ability to bring this guidance full circle by helping others the same way people helped me.

Scott Drotar Stay at Home Mom
When I was diagnosed with SMA, my mom took a break from teaching to try to get a handle on my disability and keep the family together.

When I was diagnosed, my parents had never even heard of SMA, let alone know how to raise a disabled child. Since this was way back in the 1980s, and there were not things like Google and Wikipedia to get instant information on things, they basically had to figure things out on their own. This is pretty much like taking a child to the pool for the first time, throwing them in the deep end, and saying “swim.” Fortunately for me, my parents were natural “swimmers,” and they did an amazing job of keeping their heads above water, raising me, and maintaining our family. This level of success would probably not have been possible, or at the very least it would have been much harder to obtain, if not for the “life preserver” they were given by a kind stranger.

When I was 3 years old and had just recently been diagnosed, my mom decided to take some time off from teaching to take care of me and my sister. This was necessary not just because my family was new to SMA and trying to figure out how to manage my physical limitations, but also because due to my disability I couldn’t go to a normal daycare. One day while my sister was at school as a kindergartener, my mom and I went to the grocery store. After we had gotten all of our groceries and were standing in line waiting to check out, the woman who was in line behind us started talking to my mother. She smiled and said, “I don’t want to be rude, but I can see that your son is disabled. I know that it can be hard to find childcare for a child with special needs, and I was wondering if you were aware of the preschool for the handicapped here in town?” My mother told her we had not heard of it before, and the kind woman gave my mom some basic information and phone number. My mom thanked the woman, checked out, and drove us home, and although we never saw this lady again, in that single, 60 second conversation she had a profound impact on my life.

Scott Drotar Deep End
Back when I was diagnosed, trying to learn to care for a disabled child was a lot like learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end.

That same week my mom contacted the preschool and got more information, and it was not long before I was going there on a regular basis. This was an enormous help for both me and my family. For me, it gave me access to things like physical therapy, access to adaptive technologies, and teachers that were familiar with my disability. On top of that, this gave me the opportunity to be around other kids and learn to socialize and such. Being at preschool also was a chance for me to start depending on people other than my folks, which was important in helping me want to be independent. As much as going to preschool was a benefit for me, it may have been an even bigger help for my mother. For one, it was a place where my parents could get information on my disease and network with other parents. In addition, having a place where I could go for a few hours a week meant that she no longer had to care for me 24/7. She now had a block of time where she didn’t have to think about my disability, and she could get a break. All of these benefits were a large part of the success my family had in learning to care for my disability, and I am certain that without the assistance of this preschool my life could have turned out much different.

Now fast forward with me 15 years to when I was 18 years old. Once again, my mother and I had gone to the store to do some shopping and fill some of my prescriptions. As we were standing in line at the pharmacy, a woman, who was barely an acquaintance of my family, got in line behind us. Since we lived in a super tiny town where everyone knows everyone, we were aware that this young woman had a child who had recently been diagnosed with a disease similar to mine. As we waited in line, we heard the woman say into her phone, “I’m at the pharmacy. I will be home to watch her as soon as I can. I’m hurrying.” At hearing this, my mother turned around and said, “Do you need to get home to your child?” The woman replied, “Yes. My husband needs to leave for work, and he can’t leave until I get there to watch her, but I have to get her medicine first.” My mom smiled and said, “Go in front of us in line. I remember what it was like to have a recently diagnosed child and not have anyone to help me.” The woman tearfully thanked my mother and hurried home to her kid.

Scott Drotar Full Circle
It is so important to share your wisdom with others in your position, to repay the guidance you were given, and bring that kindness full circle.

I always think fondly of this memory, not only because of the selfless kindness of my mom, but also in the symmetry of this event with the similar event with the roles reversed from 15 years earlier. Just like the woman had helped my family purely out of kindness when I was little, my mother had repaid this kindness, and brought it full circle, by helping that woman in the pharmacy get home faster. While the preschool for the handicapped had helped my parents stop from getting overwhelmed by the newness of my diagnosis, my mom had helped this overwhelmed mother in the same situation. The similarities between these two moments in my life are almost uncanny, and they illustrate how important it is to pass on your wisdom and experience. By sharing your knowledge and bringing the information that was taught to you full circle, you can greatly improve the lives of others.

Sharing what you know with others is vital to making the world a better place for the next generation. By bringing what was passed on to us full circle by helping people, hopefully others will not have to go through all of the growing pains and overcome all of the obstacles as we did. When was the last time you helped someone by sharing your wisdom or experience of their situation? Sharing what you know with others doesn’t cost you anything, but few gifts are more appreciated or more helpful than knowledge. Remember how you struggled through various moments in your life, and how the advice and guidance of others helped you. Practice some empathy and kindness and bring that feeling full circle by helping someone. This will not only be something that will change the life of someone else, but it will also bring you a great feeling of closure and happiness at bringing this selfless act full circle by repaying that kindness.

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Scott Drotar Phone
Even though the phone call went well, that did not necessarily mean that we had effectively communicated.

“Great. So it sounds like we are all set for your talk at 9 o’clock on the 17th. I’ll see you then.” This was the end of a phone conversation I had with a client a few weeks ago. The call went well, and the client and I discussed all of the various details that I needed to prepare a Roll Models talk. I had a signed service agreement, and everything was good to go so I could speak to their club, or so I thought. A few days later, I emailed the person at CareStaf who put me in touch with this client to thank them for the referral and let them know when I would be speaking. I ended my email by saying, “Thank you again for your help in getting me this gig, and I hope to see you there the evening of the 17th.” About an hour later, I get a short reply that reads, “Scott, I am very happy that you were able to set up this talk, but this group meets at 9 in the morning, not 9 in the evening.” At reading this response, my heart skipped a beat as I thought about the catastrophe that I had just averted.

This anecdote is a perfect example of the importance of good communication. The client and I were both talking about the same event, but we were doing so through our own unique point of view. As a speaker, almost all of my speaking engagements are in the afternoon or evening, so I assumed that we were talking about 9 o’clock pm. My client has been going to these morning club meetings for years, so from her perspective it seemed obvious that we were talking about 9 o’clock am. If not for my email to thank CareStaf, this miscommunication would have had major consequences. They would not have had a speaker for their club meeting, and I would have felt like an idiot when I showed up to an empty building that night. Plus, all of the time I spent preparing their talk would have been for nothing. In order to avoid issues like this from happening, it is important to develop the skills to improve your ability to communicate.

Scott Drotar Communication
I learned at a young age the importance of good communication.

There is one skill that trumps all others when it comes to being a good communicator. Since I have always had to ask for assistance and explain what I want to do anything, almost as soon as I could talk I started developing this critical skill for effective communication. This cornerstone of communication is empathy. You have to realize that in order for you to get what you want, you first need to get inside their world, their point of view, and effectively communicate what it is you want them to do. You have to see things through their “lens” and speak their language, because in case you didn’t know, people are not mind readers (well, maybe Miss Cleo). An example of this I always remember is when my mom would ask my brother or sister to do the dishes after dinner as we were growing up. My siblings would comply and wash, dry, and put away the dishes, fully believing that they had completed their task, but when my mother would walk through the kitchen later she would be less than impressed. I would hear, “Ryan/Stephanie! I thought you had done the dishes.” My siblings would look at the empty sink containing no dishes and respond, “I did…?” My mother would then point out the crumbs on the counter, the grime on the stove, and that the trash was full, to which they would respond, “I thought you wanted me to do the dishes.” This back and forth would typically escalate into a fight that ended with my siblings scrubbing the kitchen, and everyone in a bad mood.

This entire fiasco, that is common in numerous other forms to almost every American household, could have been completely avoided with better communication by using empathy. If my mom had been more explicit in her request to my siblings, and said, “Will you clean up the kitchen?” instead of “Will you do the dishes?” her expectations probably would have been met. Likewise, if my brother and sister had taken the time to do some “Mental Optometry” and ask themselves, “What does Mom do when she ‘does the dishes’?” they probably would have realized that “do the dishes” meant “clean up the kitchen.” Neither of these solutions are difficult or time consuming, but they do require you to have the self-awareness to step out of your own “reality” and into their world. You have to practice empathy.

Scott Drotar Dishes
To my mom, “do the dishes” meant “clean the kitchen.”

I have developed this ability to get inside someone else’s head and see the world through their eyes, because like I said, I had to in order to accomplish anything with my disability. Describing the exact position you want your legs in may sound easy, but I assure you it is not. When you say “up,” do you mean your up or their up? Your left or their left? What if you want to rotate one leg? It is a mess, and if you don’t believe me, get a buddy and try it. Every night though, I have to coach my nurse through this exact event. There are still those days, even after 25 years of doing it, where my nurse and I just can’t get into the same groove, and it takes us almost 5 minutes to situate my legs. I realized early on, that I would save a lot of time, frustration, and twisted knees, if I learned how to use their language to communicate. I do this by exercising empathy and getting inside their head, seeing the world from their perspective, and anticipating how they would react to my instructions.

This ability to empathize and communicate effectively is what makes me a good storyteller as well. When I speak, my goal is to connect with you emotionally in order to take you with me through a story from my life, so that you can learn something about your life. To make this connection with my audience though, I have to get inside their heads and ask myself, “What would they think about this part of my talk? How would they feel?” because it doesn’t matter whether I think it is a great, moving story, but whether they do. By empathizing this way, I will know what “language” to speak to connect with them. At this point, I use my ability as a skilled communicator to accurately and efficiently pass along my message. This combination of first connecting with their hearts and feelings by empathizing, and then skillfully communicating with their minds, is the professional speaker secret formula for a good talk. It turns out that it is not just the formula for an entertaining story though, but it is also the key to effective communication.

Communication skills” was hands down the number one response in a study where top CEOs were asked, “What is the most important skill that you want to see more of in your employees?” I would guess that a similar result would occur if couples were asked a similar question about their spouse. It is not how smart, strong, funny, or good looking you are that is most important, although I wouldn’t mind being a tall, strapping genius with a rapier wit, but how well you can connect and communicate with others that matters most. The good news is that you can develop this skill, and all you have to do is make a conscious effort during your conversations to stop your thinking for a moment and try to figure out what they are seeing, thinking, and feeling. You can practice and cultivate this skill in your normal, everyday conversations, and then once you have honed your skills you can apply them in more high stakes situations. By improving your communication skills you will be a more productive employee (at least you will seem that way), have better relationships, and bring more happiness into your life. Who knows, maybe one day after you have been on the job market for 6 months you will decide to turn your new skills into a career as a professional speaker. Stranger things have happened…..

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Pay It Forward

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Scott Drotar MDA
MDA is one of the main reasons that I had the resources to learn to live as a disabled person in an able bodied world.

I recently had a meeting with an executive from the Kansas City Region of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to discuss the possibility of my giving a Roll Models talk at some of their fundraising events. The meeting went very well, and it looks like there will be a few events throughout the year where I will speak to help raise money. This makes me extremely happy, because MDA has done so much to help me and my family over the years. Before I went to college I did a lot of fundraising for them, even raising thousands of dollars over my 4 years in high school. Once I went to college however, I just didn’t have the time to continue working with them, so for the last 8 years or so I have not helped them much. I am glad that I now not only have the time to work with them again, but also a skill set that could really benefit their cause. Not only does this help me pursue my mission to help others, but I also think it is extremely important to give back to the people who help you. You need to pay back the generosity that has been showed you, in order to also pay it forward to the next generation of people who need this organizations help.

I have briefly discussed some of the things that MDA does for families of neuromuscular diseases in a previous post, but I want to expand on that now. In addition to providing the MDA clinics that I have already mentioned, they also pay for research to treat and cure all 42 neuromuscular diseases. They provide support groups for disabled people and their families, and they hold MDA Summer Camp for a week every year so disabled children can experience what camp is like. They do all of this, and so much more, thanks to the donations of people and companies at their fundraising events throughout the year. It is by working at these events to help raise money that I realized the importance of paying it forward, and it is also where I got my start in public speaking.

Scott Drotar Goodwill Ambassador
When I was cute and innocent, I was goodwill ambassador for my MDA region.

I first started working with MDA at the mature age of 4, when I was chosen as the goodwill ambassador for the Fort Wayne, Indiana region. This basically meant that I was the face for MDA at their functions, and I would be at events to be the sweet, cute little kid that would smile, maybe say a few words, and pull at people’s heart strings to get them to donate more money. I did this same job in the South Bend, Indiana region when my family moved there until I was 7 or 8, when I grew out of the cute kid stage. These fundraising events were my introduction to motivational speaking, and they showed me how my physical situation and a well delivered message can be very powerful in helping people. Even after I was too old to be goodwill ambassador, I still helped raise money at a few events every year by telling my story and how much MDA had helped me. One of these events was the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.

It was at the Telethon one year when I was about 12, that I realized how important it is to give back to the people who helped you, as well as paying it forward to help others. I was sitting in the Fox 28 television studio watching the Telethon on TV and waiting for my interview, when they started playing the annual in memorium segment. This is a slide show of all of the people in your region that died during the year due to complications from neuromuscular diseases. Naturally, it is a very emotional segment, complete with sappy music, but it is a powerful tool for generating donations. As I watched it, I noticed that very few of the people pictured were older than me, and remember I was 12, and almost no one was over 30 years old. Even more unsettling was the number of children under the age of 4 that were pictured. I thought to myself, “Will I be on this clip next year? The year after?” I decided right there that that would be unacceptable, and I would do whatever I had to to not be on this segment any time soon. Then an even scarier thought surfaced in my mind, “What if my brother or sister have a child, and God forbid, they have my disability?” Having lived through the difficulties of maintaining a happy, successful family with a disabled child, I could not let that happen to my siblings. I knew that the only way to make sure that neither of these things would happen was to find a treatment and cure for my disease, and that in order for this to happen any time soon, there was a need for more funding. I realized that by helping to raise money for MDA, I could simultaneously pay back everything they have done for me, and pay it forward to ensure that future generations of children do not end up a picture on a slide show before they even get a chance to live.

Scott Drotar Telethon
I have appeared on the Labor Day Telethon at least 15 times.

It was only after this little epiphany that I really understood the importance of what MDA does. Now, I was always aware of how much they had helped people and that was great, but the way they really help people is by funding research. It is only through clinical research that we will keep young faces off of that slide show. Having been one of the lucky few who managed to live to adulthood and experience life, I knew I had to do everything I could to raise money so others could have the same opportunity. It was the only way I could ensure my future nieces and nephews never end up on that segment. I do not want anyone else to have to go through all of the pain, struggle, and hardship that I have had to endure due to my disability. That is why I have such a strong passion for helping MDA, and it is why I am so happy to donate my speaking services for their fundraising events over the year.

I apologize if I got up on my soap box for a minute there, but this is something that I am extremely passionate about. Not only helping MDA, which I hope you will all support in any way you can, but more so the notion of paying forward the help you have received throughout your life. It is up to us today, to make sure that our future loved ones will not have to face the same obstacles that we have. If nothing else, I hope my words will make you think about things the next time someone asks you to donate to their cause. Instead of staying on autopilot and immediately saying no, ask yourself, “Would I pay this amount to ensure my grandchild is healthy/well fed/literate?” I also hope you all will select a cause you are passionate about and support it in any way you can. Not only will this create a better future for your children, but you will also find that giving of yourself this way brings happiness to your life.

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