Earlier this week, Richard Coles (@RevRichardColes) posted the following story on Twitter. I found it so striking that I asked if I could reproduce it here (he kindly said yes).
Talked to a woman tonight who grew up in tough town in north east of England and in her teens it all went horribly wrong … [O]ne day her teacher told her to stay after class and instead of the bollocking she was expecting he said ‘you think you’re nothing but you’re not’, and gave her a copy of ‘1984’. And then another book a week later and then another. Her friends’ lives stalled, one dying of a heroin overdose that could have killed her; but she went on to Cambridge and a PhD and is now a priest – because someone disagreed with her self-assessment as worthless and gave her a book.
This tale really speaks for itself, so I’m not going to distract from its value with a long commentary. What is clear, though, is not just the enduring power of books and reading as food for the soul, spirit or whatever you want to call it, but – more pointedly – how important it is to recognize and believe in people’s (often hidden) potential, and to act on your instincts in this area. I have no idea how many other pupils this teacher may have provided with books nor with what degree of “success”, but somehow that pales into insignificance against the life-changing (or even life-saving) effect it clearly had on this one individual.