Oregon radio host Georgene Rice of KPDQ-FM interviewed Sean Tuohy author of “In A Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving” and was featured in the movie, The Blind Side.
Rice: Why do you think your family’s story has captivated so many people?
Tuohy: It’s interesting, as we travel around, we are so lucky to come into contact with so many wonderful people. We’ll go to a conference and afterwards we say that we’ve met eight people who’s lives would have made a better movie…You start to feel humble and inadequate, that’s why we wrote the book…When you get down to it, it’s not anything more than what anyone else can do. We wanted to make sure that people knew is that you can’t get intimidated by the process there’s nothing too small that cannot help someone else…How this started was when my wife told me to turn to car around and go help this kid. We challenge people in this book to do the same thing…It will change your life and it will be as fast as a heartbeat.
Rice: This notion of generosity was something that you had cultivated in your family over a period of time. You write about the popcorn principle, talk about that principle.
Tuohy: When people would ask us, “How do you organize your giving, how do you put it into categories?” We tell by the “Popcorn Theory,” if popcorn flies up and hits you in the face, there’s a reason for it.
There’s are these kernels in the bottom of the pan, and you don’t know their story, their baggage, they may have needs and wants…one kernel will be the most needy and it’s going to fly up and hit you in the face. And that’s kind of how we do it…we try to take the act of giving to the lowest level…it’s just doing something. We feel that you’ll get way more out of it if you go into with a cheerful heart because it will have power of it…”
Rice: How did you experience as a teenager and young man affect the way you perceived Michael as the relationship was being forged?
Tuohy: At the age of fifteen, sixteen, my dad had a disabling stroke at the age of 41. I was at a school only because he was a teacher there. It was an exclusive private school…that school never made me feel like it was a burden for me to be there. And they didn’t have to do that, the key was that I really wanted to stay there and they gave me the opportunity without me having to ask, made it the more powerful receiving on my end…We challenge people to give…but if you can give to somebody because you understand their need before they ask for it, the reward you get back, are huge. And that’s what we felt with Michael. It was easy with him because, because his needs were so vast. But my growing up and a sixteen year old doesn’t understand that, but looking back it was easy for me to see how it could have gone a whole different way…it woke up my eyes when I realized the giving.
Rice: Have you thought much about how the story would have ended if you didn’t stop the car and not turned around?
Tuohy: Everyday. And the problem is that you’ll see another kid on the street and it keeps you up at night…Here’s the trick, Michael was incredibly talented, smart and athletically gifted way before we met him…We allowed him to become the person he was supposed to become…Imagine the one that gets left behind.
Rice: The one thing people think is the risk of taking in a homeless kid, how did those risks affect your decision making process?
Tuohy: I don’t ever remember having a concern. Maybe that’s because we’re not very smart. My wife says, every morning do you check the tires, the pressure, the engine? There’s an inherent risk going over a bridge, do you check the span? We take risks everyday. What risks are they really? The risk was that Michael wasn’t going to stay…She would have been crushed…The pace of our lives picked up because there was an extra person in our house, the interest increased…all of the sudden we looked around and thought, “This is the best time we have ever had.”
Rice: What challenges did you family face because you decided to become Michael’s parents?
Tuohy: They pushed the wagon the entire time…My son offered him room for Michael, he offered to give up his play room, which was important to him, but he gave it up in a second. My daughter immediately said, “Why don’t I take some of Michael’s classes with him so we can study at the same time”…What we tried to do was to let them know that we were proud of them and that it made us happy and they just wanted to do it more….It was really quite easy.
Rice: Cheerful giving seems to be part of your family’s DNA. Was that deliberate or did it grow out of this circumstance?
Tuohy: It was deliberate and lucky and blessed…you do it because that’s what your heart tells you do and you continue to do it because there is so much power in the cheerful side….we believe of the vast need that Michael needed, he allowed us to give to him everyday in a cheerful manner…we got to have Christmas everyday with him.
Rice: What has cheerful giving taught you about family?
Tuohy: The most important thing is to not measure cheerful giving.
Don’t be intimidated by any size, any amount….Start small, start where it keeps you in a cheerful manner, we know that it will grow…”
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