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If you like Ben Carson's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Keith Black,
Denton Cooley,
Paul Farmer,
Coretta Scott King,
Wendy Kopp,
John Lewis,
Rosa Parks,
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and Oprah Winfrey

Ben Carson can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Ben Carson also appears in the videos:
The Health of America: Individual Responsibility
The Arts, Sciences & Creativity
Advocacy and Citizenship: Speaking Out for Others

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ben Carson in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
The Power of Words

Related Links:
Carson Scholars
Johns Hopkins

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Benjamin Carson
Benjamin Carson
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  Benjamin Carson

What was your mother's reaction when you said you wanted to go into medicine?

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
Benjamin Carson: She said, "Of course you can do it. If anybody can do it, you can do it, except you can do it better." That was always her mind trick. "You can do anything anybody else can do, except you can do it better." She kind of brainwashed us into thinking that we had some kind of special powers, which I don't think we did, but I think everybody is special if they believe they're special, because there's so much potential in each human being. When you look at the human brain and how little of it we actually use, how little of our potential we actually use, if you can convince somebody that they've got a lot of potential and get them moving in that direction, then obviously they are going to be persons of accomplishment.

So are expectations are a large part of performance?

Benjamin Carson: Without question.

I remember once going to a school system in Yakima Valley, Washington, and the school official said to me, "Don't expect the kind of reception you usually get," because these kids were from reservations, they were from migrant families, and he said, "They have a different set of values. So, don't take it personally if they don't listen. Don't even be offended if they throw things at you." Well, of course, that's exactly what you want to hear. And, when I went into the auditorium, they were jumping over seats, they were shooting paper wads. I mean, it was a madhouse. And, I just quietly went up to the microphone and I started talking about what it was like living in an environment where you walk into a room and turn on the light switch and it looked like the wall was moving because there were so many roaches, and rats that were big enough to move garbage cans, and sirens and gangs and people lying in the street with bullet holes in their chest, and how my two cousins that we lived with got killed. And, then I started showing them how they could use their fingers to calculate, instead of just doing addition and subtraction, how they could do multiplication. You could have heard a pin drop in that room. When I finished, standing ovation. They wanted pictures and autographs, and the school officials said, "Who are these kids? We've never seen them before." I said, "They're the same kids. It's just that I just spent an hour telling them what they could do, not what they couldn't do."

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
It's just a matter of raising expectations, and I think this is an area where we've largely fallen down in this country. That's one of the reasons we've created a scholarship program. We've created reading rooms in different schools where the kids actually get reward certificates for reading, which they can trade in for gifts and all kinds of things.

We've got to get them excited and start them at an early level, unless we want to go the same route as other pinnacle nations have in the past. We're not the first pinnacle nation, but every pinnacle nation in the past declined. There came a lot of sports and entertainment, lifestyles of the rich and famous, they lost their moral compass, and they went right down the tubes. Maybe it's inevitable, but if we're going to avoid that, we have to start with the youngsters and we have to create the right mind set and the right set of values.

You obviously had a considerable religious background. I know faith is very important to you. At what point did it become important in your life? How much of your success do you attribute to it?

Benjamin Carson: That actually was the day that it became very important to me, that day in the bathroom. Because when I came out and that temper was gone, I knew there was something more that was involved than just me determining that I wasn't going to get angry anymore. It became clear to me at that point that God was a real entity you could call upon. I've had multiple experiences in my life, subsequently, that made it very clear to me that there was really a supernatural being called God that you could call upon to take care of problems. It gives me an extra sense of confidence.

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
I have come into conflict sometimes with people in the scientific community who say, "How can you believe in a God? Somebody who was brought up in the sciences, you understand evolution and all of these various theories, and natural selection, how can you believe in God?" And I say, au contraire. Because when I look at my belief in God, and I look at the order of the universe, when I look at how the earth goes around the sun, and then I look at all the other things that are orbiting, I know that that doesn't just happen. When I look at the human brain with hundreds of billions of interconnections, much more sophisticated than anything that we can create and call a computer, I know that that didn't just happen.

Copernicus made a model of the universe that he would turn with a crank, and all the planets would rotate around the sun. He showed it to the king and the king said, "This is really an intricate thing, this is wonderful. How did this happen?" And he said, "It just came into being. It just popped up." And he said, "No, no. Somebody had to make this." He had proved his point, that yes, there was a creator.

It has become an essential part of my life and my being. It's part of my B.I.G. philosophy, the last letter. The G is for God. I feel very strongly that, in American society, we should not be ashamed of it. We shouldn't shy away from it. Consider the fact that it's on our money. Every coin and every bill says, "In God We Trust." It's in our pledge; it's in the preamble to our Constitution. It talks about our creator. It's on our courtrooms. On the walls it says, "In God We Trust." When we created this nation, we believed in God, why do we all of a sudden have to say we don't believe in Him? I believe that's one of the reasons we got to be so great, so quickly.

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
What do you say to kids who look at you and say, "He is inherently smarter than I am. He can get it together better than I can, and there's something just basically unfair about the universe."

Benjamin Carson: I would say to them, "That's exactly the way I felt when I wasn't doing well." I would look at some of the kids in my class -- Bobby, Steve, Lenora -- who always got "A"s and I would just say, "They're inherently smarter than I am. I just don't understand things the way they do." And I would leave it at that.

The fact of the matter is, once I developed confidence in myself and began to believe that I was smart, then all of those innate abilities began to come out. Everybody has them, everybody who has a normal brain, because there is no such thing as an average human being. If you have a normal brain, you are superior. There's almost nothing that you can't do.

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
It's really just a matter of understanding that. Take two baseball players, two rookies that come up. The first day in the Major Leagues and the first one comes up, he looks out at the mound, and he sees Nolan Ryan. "Oh no! He's a legend in his own time, he's got a 95 mile-an-hour fast ball, struck out more men than anybody in the history of baseball, more no-hitters. I probably won't even see the ball." With that mind-set, he's very unlikely to get a hit. Another rookie comes up, with the same talent. He looks out there and says, "Nolan Ryan, he's an old man. I'm probably going to knock the cover off this ball." He's going to approach that assignment in a completely different way, and his chance of getting a hit is much greater.

It's really a matter of the mind-set and what one thinks. Achievement really has very little to do with some innate intellectual gift.

You are as knowledgeable about the brain and the way it functions as almost anybody, and you're arguing against a presupposition that seems obvious to many people, that some of us are just born better. Could you clarify that?

Benjamin Carson: Let me make it very dramatic. There was this book that came out a couple of years ago called, The Bell Curve. I'm sure you remember that. It said black people were, perhaps, not intellectually able to do certain things very well, but that they were particularly good at some other things -- basketball, maybe.

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
What an absurd thing that is! If, starting today, all the young black girls in America said, "We're not going out with you guys unless you can work a calculus problem," the next edition of The Bell Curve would come out saying, "Black people have this innate ability to perform calculus problems. They can't play basketball very well, but they're really good at calculus." It's a matter of what a person concentrates on. It's a matter of what a person feels is important.

To try to make artificial distinctions on non-science, which is what these silly guys did, is just divisive and stupid. What we need to do is concentrate on those things that are uplifting and positive in our society. I could tell you story after story after story of individuals in our society who have overcome enormous odds, who were not expected to do things, who have done so.

These are the people that we need to concentrate on. These are the people we need to talk about. We don't need to be talking about Madonna, and Michael Jordan, and Michael Jackson. I don't have anything against these people, I really don't. But, the fact of the matter is that's not uplifting anybody. That's not creating the kind of society we want to create. I think all of us have some significant responsibility in that.

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This page last revised on Apr 18, 2012 20:39 EDT
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