My Two CENTS Worth: CENT-iments on Humility, Respect and Empathy!

My Two CENTS Worth: CENT-iments on Humility, Respect and Empathy!

By Tim E. Renzelmann

As I’ve pondered how we (as individuals, groups, communities, a society and from a global perspective have responded to this pandemic, a couple CENT-sational stories, stories that I have shared before, although I can no longer recall their origins, come to mind. These are stories that, not surprisingly, are related to that meager little coin that I often turn to for a greater CENTS of understanding.

The first story is that of a mathematics instructor who was trying to teach his students the elements of probability by conducting a simple experiment that involved flipping a coin. The class tallied, with each flip, how many times “heads” came up and how many times “tails” came up. Allegedly, on one of those flips, the coin fell to the floor, bounced a few times and then started to roll until it came to rest... not “heads”... not “tails”... but on its “edge”!

I’d be curious how the instructor explained this unexpected result. Assuming that he/she was proficient in this discipline, I would still find it difficult to believe that, at any point while he or she prepared for class, there was any consideration of a third option beyond “heads” or “tails.” So, perhaps more important than WHAT explanation was given is HOW it was given - with a bit of humility, I would hope. We often don’t know or fail to consider the possibilities.

So, please, practice humility!

Most would reasonably assume that, even if you account for the remote chance of the coin landing on it’s “edge,” the chances of “heads” versus “tails” is an equal 50/50.

Did you know, however, that the modern cent has an advantage of landing “tails” if the coin is flipped to the ground (and not caught in the air)? The design of the obverse (front) of the coin consists of slightly more metallic content than that of the reverse (back) of the coin. Thus, the coin is ever-so-slightly weighted on the “heads” side which results in a slight tendency for this heavier side to land downward (resulting in “tails”).

I am not suggesting that I am a penny “expert.” There are certainly others out there who know far more about various aspects of this coin than I do. However, there are some who may know more about some things than others. Knowing even trivial characteristics of the One Cent piece is real and can make a difference. It makes CENTS to consider the knowledge and opinions of those with specific experience and expertise.

So please... be humble and respect the experts (especially expert organizations and/or when the majority of experts agree)!

I would like to share one last CENT-iment with you before I finish this piece. I have no penny-related story with which to make my point... but I do have the words of presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Doris Kearns Goodwin who, in her book titled Team of Rivals, describes the empathy of “the man on the penny” (Abraham Lincoln’s). Goodwin writes:

“Mr. Lincoln possessed extraordinary empathy – the gift or curse of putting himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.”

“Even as a child,” she went on to explain, “he was uncommonly tender-hearted. He once stopped and tracked back half a mile to rescue a pig caught in a mire--not because he loved the pig, recollected a friend, "just to take a pain out of his own mind."

Opinion Contributors Mark Brennan, Dana Winters and Pat Dolan, in an article titled “We’re All First Responders Amid Coronavirus, Armed with Kindness, Compassion and Empathy,” that appeared in USA Today wrote:

“Through our research and professional experience, we know one key thing: In times of emergency, providing empathy, kindness and compassion to our fellow citizens is the single most important factor in surviving the initial stages of disaster, limiting suffering, protecting the vulnerable, and quickly recovering in the aftermath of the crisis.”

What do you do? I offer these CENTS-ible suggestions:

  • Be humble!
  • Respect the experts (especially expert organizations and/or when the majority of experts agree)!
  • Practice Empathy!

As Always,


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