Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Thomas, a young man who had coped with Friedrich’s ataxia, a progress neurological disorder that gave him a heart attack and stroke at the age of 22. Many people spoke about what made him extraordinary — his sardonic sense of humor, his artistic talents and staunch persistence, his quest for accessibility for himself and others in our town and his college. Elon College just named a brand new elevator after him — an elevator installed in a building that used to be a monumental challenge for him to get around in his powered wheelchair.
I kept feeling sad that he hadn’t really had a chance to be ordinary. I’ve often thought the best novels were about the extraordinary aspects of ordinary lives. In this case I yearned for ordinary aspects of an extraordinary life.
He also provides an example of the ripple effect I talked about yesterday. When his disorder was first diagnosed, he took great comfort from Stephen Hawkings‘ book, A Brief History of Time, I guess because it reminded him that people with grave disabilities can achieve marvelous things. Stephen Hawkings may have thought in a general sense of being a role model, but he didn’t know the difference he made in Thomas’s life. He gave Thomas vicarious mastery — the next best way to self-efficacy after personal mastery. In fact, I think this is the best example of vicarious mastery that I’ve encountered.
Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Albert Bandura’s article, Self-Efficacy
I expect Thomas’s life is leaving ripples behind that will touch other lives, many many ripples from a short life.