“Richard, your dad can’t remember our names.”
With those words from a relative at a family reunion, the reality of Alzheimer’s Disease entered Richard Lui’s family, and his life began to change. The broadcast journalist and news anchor had spent years building his career on CNN Worldwide, NBC, and MSNBC, but he was willing to give it all up in order to help care for his father.
Thankfully, an alternate plan was worked out due to his boss’ “creative kindness.” And because of his experiences, Richard became much more aware of the ideal of selflessness in his own past and the world around him. The result of his reflections and research is the new book “Enough About Me: The Unexpected Power of Selflessness,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below).
Though Richard didn’t know it at the time, the seeds of this book were planted by his parents when he was growing up in California. His father Stephen was a Presbyterian minister, youth pastor, and social worker, while his mother worked as a teacher. She loved her job so much that she turned down promotions because she wanted to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds get a better education and fulfill their potential. However, she took a break from teaching to raise her kids.
As a result, the Luis didn’t earn enough money to fully support Richard and his siblings. He recalled, “We were on food stamps and, thanks to the welfare system, able to get by. I didn’t have heat in the house until [age] 15, and I’m the third oldest.”
Despite not having a lot materially speaking, Richard witnessed his parents helping others in whatever ways they could. He admits that developing his “selflessness muscles” didn’t happen automatically. It’s an ongoing process, the roots of which lay in the example of his mom and dad.
That’s why when his father began displaying signs of Alzheimer’s at their family reunion, Richard and his siblings knew they would rally together to help him and their mom. But as a journalist, Richard traveled a lot. And when he wasn’t on the road, he was based in New York City, 3,000 miles away from his parents. As his father’s condition got worse, he knew he couldn’t maintain the status quo career-wise.
He planned to approach his boss at MSNBC, Yvette Miley, about his situation, but expected her to tell him they couldn’t accommodate him wanting to work fewer hours. “Broadcast journalists do not ask to be on the air less,” he told me.
To his surprise, however, Miley revealed that she herself was caring for her mother in California. She understood his situation and was willing to work around his schedule. For the past seven years, therefore, Richard has been on-air in New York two or three days a week, while commuting to California to help care for his father the rest of the time (at least until Covid shut down traveling in 2020). He estimates that he traveled between 300,000 to 500,000 miles a year.
This wasn’t the first time that Richard had a boss who acted with an employee’s best interest at heart. When he was a student at UC Berkeley during the 1990s, he was hired for a marketing position at a small manufacturing company run by a man named Mike Breslin. Things were going well for a time, but a national recession hit the business hard, so Breslin informed his staff that they would have to take a 20 percent pay cut until finances improved. What Breslin didn’t reveal was that he was cutting his own salary to $0, so that he could keep his employees on the job. It is an example of selflessness that motivates Richard to this day.
He kept all these details in mind as he began working on “Enough About Me,” which he describes as an “‘anti-self help’ self help book.” In viewing selflessness as a journalist, a businessman, and a caretaker, Richard crafted the contents as part personal stories (both his own and other people’s), part research, and part instruction manual.
During his research, Richard learned that selflessness in the business world results in more success than acts of selfishness. He said, “There was a study that was done in 2018 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. [There were] 4,000 respondents, and they found that over 14 years, those that worked on developing stronger social ties, worked on team strength, on giving and positive relationships, building collaborations – they made 50% more [money]. That is gargantuan, as opposed to the selfish worker, [who acts like], ‘All I care about is me. Stay away from me. I don’t want to talk to you.’ Another piece of research that we discuss in the book is that productivity went up by 50% when supervisors gave gratitude. Gratitude is a part of selflessness because you’re giving of your belief in others. You’re giving appreciation, as opposed to only looking at yourself and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m good.'”
Inspired by his efforts as a caretaker, Richard began noticing other caretakers more. That led to him directing the documentary film “Sky Blossom,” about a group of young people that embody love, goodness, and selflessness. He said, “We focused on students…aged 11 to 26, who were caring for somebody in their family that had an ailment, who had a disability. [They are] truly ‘care heroes,’ and they don’t even know it. They do it every day. They go to school…[then] go home and live another life…They’re from the South, the Midwest, the East, the West, and the Pacific Islands, and they represent every major ethnic group. The point was to show many things. But one is [that] caring for other people is worth it – and look at how these students are doing it. You can do it, too.”
The title “Sky Blossom” stems from World War II, when paratroopers would fly behind battle lines to bring aid to Allied troops. “Their parachutes would open and they’d look like blossoms,” explained Richard. “The troops on the ground would look up and say, ‘Here come the sky blossoms.’ The reason we called [the film] ‘Sky Blossom’ was because it signified these student caregivers. They were coming in behind the lines to help their dad, their mom, their grandparents, to help them medically and physically. On top of that, they were blossoming and growing at the same time.”
Though the film was released in 2020, it will garner a much wider audience when it’s made available on a major network and streaming service this May. In the meantime, visit www.SkyBlossom.com for clips and more information.
Ultimately, Richard hopes that readers find “Enough About Me” to be “a practical instruction manual [on selflessness]…that it’s accessible in home, at work, and in your personal relationships. And we show that you can access these selfless acts in bite-size ways, in a daily way, that will hopefully lead to a muscle set…like all of those great healthcare professionals [during the pandemic]. They had built up a muscle set of selflessness….That’s the way that we try to express it: practical, bite size, daily, and in everything that you do at home, at work, and in your relationships.” And he notes that author proceeds from book sales will go to various charities, including the Alzheimer’s Association.
(To listen to my full interview with Richard Lui, click on the podcast link):