From time to time friends and colleagues send me news articles with suggestions for a column. Recently, a good friend sent me one with a different twist.
It was written by Ben Stein, the actor, TV personality and onetime White House speechwriter. Mr. Stein has been writing a column for E! Online for the past several years called ``Monday Night at Morton's.'' Morton's is a famous chain of steakhouses, and its Hollywood restaurant was once a favorite haunt of movie stars and other famous people.
Mr. Stein's final column was titled, ``How can someone who lives in insane luxury be a star in today's world?'' In it, he tells us one reason he is giving up his column. ``I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.
``How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a `star' we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model? Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating raw fruit.''
Mr. Stein believes a real star is the U.S. soldier who was killed while trying to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad, or the soldier who saw a little girl in Baghdad playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance near his post. Eyewitnesses say he pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded. He left his family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.
Mr. Stein believes the real heroes are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but those who patrol the streets of Mosul even after ``two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.
``We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines. The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.''
Other heroes, Mr. Stein writes, include ``the policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central (Los Angeles) and have no idea if they will return alive. The orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery. The teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children. The kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards. Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my idea of a real hero.''
I don't believe there are many of us who would disagree.
Toward the end of his column, Mr. Stein writes: ``Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin or Martin Mull or Fred Willard, or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald. Or even remotely close to any of them. But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me. This came to be my main task in life.
``I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's help). I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years. I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis, then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms. This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York. I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others he has placed in my path. This is my highest and best use as a human.''
Mr. Stein's column hit home for me. I have always wondered why we place so much value on those who are so full of themselves that they care little about the plight of others.
In healthcare-where the overwhelming majority of people are in the business to help others-nurses, physicians, technologists, paramedics and administrators are real heroes because they are so committed to their profession. Whenever I have the privilege of speaking to a group of healthcare professionals I tell them how lucky they are to be in the business of helping their fellow citizens.
There is no higher calling.
Charles S. Lauer is vice president-publishing/editorial director of Modern Healthcare magazine, published by Crain Communications Inc., the parent company of Tire Business.