It is so much easier to be egotistical when you’re stupid. We’ve all met these people who have such a high opinion of themselves and yet once you get to know them it becomes quite apparent they have nothing to support it. Based on my experience, the people with the biggest egos usually have the smallest brains.
Most of the smartest people I know are extremely humble and self-effacing. They know what they don’t know and are constantly trying to discover new information. I had the great pleasure of a business friendship with one of these geniuses. His name was Dale Eldred. Dale was an instructor at the Kansas City Art Institute in the 80’s. His specialty was sculpture but not like anything else I had ever seen. He designed a series of mirrors on the grounds at the Nelson Art Gallery that were arranged in such a way that at certain times of day the sunlight would bounce off of these mirrors in ways that were truly amazing. The interplay of architecture and reflected rays of light was mind-boggling to say the least. His ability to calculate the position of the sun at given latitudes and longitudes at different times of year and then apply that formula to the angles, sizes and positioning of mirrors was something I could not even begin to fathom. And don’t forget these were the days before GPS, so he did all of this math the old fashion way.
Dale came to my business one day in search of someone who could photograph some maps he needed for another project he was building in Finland. As we talked it became quite clear to me that this man was as smart as anybody I had ever met and I hung on every word he said. I showed him around my shop and explained all of the finer points of industrial photography to him. He asked the most intelligent and pointed questions and clearly was enthralled by all that I could do with my equipment. What he needed was a fairly simple process but that didn’t keep him from picking my brain. We spent the better part of an afternoon discussing his work and my ability and how we could help each other. Then he said something I will never forget, “I am so lucky to have found you and you have helped me so much.” He had taken the words right out of my mouth and I was dumbfounded. This man, who was clearly in a league of his own, was telling me how great he thought I was and how much he had learned from me.
We became good friends after that and I made time for him every time he called. I would have dropped everything to spend days with Dale Eldred. We were kindred spirits in the sense that we both wanted to know more about everything. The excitement of learning and the thrill of intelligent revelations were always the first order of business when we got together. He did not have an egotistical bone in his body and was always willing to share every morsel of information that he possessed. I can only imagine how great a teacher he was at the Art Institute.
Sadly, Dale died in a freak accident in 1993. That was the summer the Midwest had major flooding. Dale was trying to relocate his studio in the Kansas City West Bottoms, ahead of the advancing flood waters, when he fell thru a hole in the upper floor of a warehouse. I don’t recall a sadder day in my life than that. People like Dale Eldred don’t come into your life very often but when they do it is a once in a lifetime experience. They more than make up for all the egotistical fools that just waste your time.
I consider my contribution to Dale’s work as pretty insignificant but I can’t begin to describe how great I feel about it. I got to match wits with one of the most incredible people ever and he thanked me. I don’t know how my life could ever get better than that. I only wish that more people could have had the pleasure of his friendship before he died. Maybe the thing to remember is to never waste time with fools and to always make time for those truly humble geniuses who only come along once in your life.
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