Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small


It's nice to be back. Thanks for the all the messages during my recent cervical spinal surgery. All of those notes and gifts reminded me how blessed I am to be able to enjoy the work I do here with you.

The Cleveland Clinic usually makes it into the news with some medical breakthrough, or as a place where athletes, stars, and emirs fly in for critical care. People come there from all 50 states, and a hundred different countries.

But shivering in a blue smock for pre-op tests, I sat alongside an Amish farmer from central Ohio, a fireman from Ashtabula, a short story writer from Oregon, scores of other people who were treated with as much care and graciousness as any monarch. From shuttle drivers to nurses and surgeons, the staff at the Cleveland Clinic filled an anxious time for our family with warmth, and even laughter.

It wasn't until after Dr. Edward Benzel, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, got his hands out of my neck that he handed me a paper he wrote last year for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons - on wisdom. Intelligence and experience are commodities that are measured on various scales, but Dr. Benzel sees wisdom as a deepening blend of intelligence, experience, and something that's more precious, and impossible to quantify.

Intelligence is critical - you wouldn't want a neurosurgeon without it - but smart people make mistakes, not despite their intelligence, but often because they're so smart, they're sure they must be right.

Dr. Benzel quotes Satchel Paige: It's not what you don't know that hurts you; it's what you know that just ain't so.

And Dr. Benzel also quotes Einstein, Moliere and Voltaire, but when you're rolled into an operating room, it's encouraging to know that your surgeon is inspired by a man who pitched baseball games for 40 years.

Experience can knock around intelligence to create the kind of doubt that can lead to reflection and maturity. But if you let experience alone guide decisions, you might not try anything new, which will turn wisdom into mush.

Dr. Benzel winds up concluding that an essential ingredient of wisdom is morality, to use an old-fashioned, even unexpected word: knowing when it's right and he thinks it almost always is to make a decision that we won't judge by whether it's bold, clever, or without risk, but whether it's truly wise.

I feel that the kindness and skill of strangers, who are no longer strangers, has given me a new vitality. I hope to earn that gift, by being more creative, kind, intrepid, moral, and better at this job too. Thanks for the chance.

(Soundbite of song, "Cleveland Rocks")

Mr. IAN HUNTER (Musician): (Singing) Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks.

SIMON: Ian Hunter at London's Astoria - the original "Cleveland Rocks."

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm just Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small