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My Unsung Hero series: A man rethinks his instinct to be sarcastic

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's time for "My Unsung Hero," a series from Hidden Brain that shares the stories of people who left a lasting impression on someone else. Ritch Addison was once a shy little kid who sometimes felt picked on. But once he got to high school, things changed. He developed a sarcastic sense of humor as a defense mechanism.

RITCH ADDISON: But the sense of humor I developed was kind of biting and kind of critical. So now, my hero is about to come into the story. And this was my friend, Holly. And one day, Holly and I were talking, and she said to me, you know, Ritch, sometimes you really hurt people's feelings. And at first I was just shocked. I said to myself, that can't be true. I was entertaining. I made people laugh. I liked people. These were my friends. I didn't want to hurt them. I couldn't be hurting them. But I kept thinking about what Holly said, and I kept turning it over in my mind. And eventually, I realized that she was absolutely right. And I started paying attention to how my humor was affecting other people, and I changed it. It didn't happen overnight, but I changed. And I wanted to be more compassionate towards people, and I wanted to have a different kind of relationship with them than always keeping them off balance.

So after, I went on to become a clinical psychologist. And in my role, I try to help other people have generous interpretations about themselves and others. And I've also made a career out of training physicians to do that. And I really am so grateful that I made that shift in my life. And I really owe it to Holly. And I think back to that time so many years ago and when she cared enough to say something to me - something that probably wasn't easy to say, but it was something that changed the direction of my life in a very significant and very gratifying way. So thank you, Holly. You're my unsung hero.

SHAPIRO: Ritch Addison lives in Santa Rosa, Calif. He was recently able to reconnect with Holly and tell her how much her comment meant to him some 50 years later. Share the story of your unsung hero by recording a voice memo on your phone and emailing it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.