Miracles

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At
church on Sunday evening, I had a special treat: a concert by the
Miracles. It cheered me up, and it seemed to cheer them up.

The
Miracles are a group of 22 singers. They sing mainly in churches.
What makes them unique is that all of them suffer from mental retardation.
Some seem only mildly afflicted. Others are suffering from what
most of us would regard as a considerable disability. Two of them
clearly had Down’s Syndrome. During the self-introduction period,
one of the women had trouble remembering her last name.

If
you have Macromedia Flash on your computer, you
can hear a sample of their singing here
. To
download Flash, click
here
.

I
encourage you to listen. It will amaze you.

The
group travels 15,000 miles a year. It performs about 50 times. The
Center has a large tour bus that seats 50.

For
over 25 years, the Miracles have performed around the country. The
Reagan White House invited them to sing. They have sung at the Kennedy
Center. Their music is worth hearing, but seeing them reminds us:
there is hope in the midst of affliction. There is also productivity.

WHAT
A GROUP CAN DO

If
you clicked through and heard them and saw the photographs, you
probably were impressed. The sound they make as a group is high
quality. In person, they were not flawless, but they were as presentable
as any well-trained choir in a local congregation.

Their
performance included some solos. With one exception, their individual
singing was not impressive. They just did not have the talent. There
were missed notes. Yet as a group, the Miracles sound remarkable.

Individually,
they have varying clarity of speech. Some spoke haltingly. Yet their
enunciation in the singing was fine. I could hear every word. This
is one of the great advantages of singing. People open their mouths
and sing out confidently. When they do this, they can be understood.

There
is a lesson here. It was the main lesson I drew from the concert.
What we lack as individuals, we can compensate for through cooperation
in a group effort.

Two
are better than one; because they have a good reward for their
labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but
woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another
to help him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9—10).

The
Miracles are a visual and audible testimony to the productivity
of the division of labor. Each singer specializes. Each has a niche
in the overall spectrum of sound. As soloists, with one exception,
they would not have thrilled listeners. Yet, somehow, in a joint
effort, what they produced was first-rate. Coming out of the mouths
of these afflicted people, who individually seemed bereft of talent,
the music was special — not special in the sense of "special
education," but special in the sense of uniquely uplifting.

It
was not that their music was perfect. It was that it was so much
better than what we hear in person most of the time. When they walked
onto the stage, they were visibly handicapped. Some stepped as aged
people do: unsure, halting. It took some direction to get them lined
up. Yet once they began singing, they were clearly in charge of
the music . . . and the audience.

EXCEEDING
EXPECTATIONS

It
was not that they were spectacular. It was that they were so much
better than outsiders might otherwise expect. That, too, was an
inspiration to the audience. It reminded every person in the room
that it’s possible to do a lot better than anyone expects, if you
get the right training and support.

As
individuals, each of us has doubts about his performance. Will we
meet others’ expectations? We hope so. We eventually find some niche
in which we can perform up to others’ standards. This is why most
of us are afraid to branch out, to take risks. We fear public exposure.
The fear of public failure keeps most people tied to familiar ways,
familiar performances.

Those
handicapped singers were given an opportunity to escape from the
low expectations that most of us assume regarding the mentally retarded.
We pigeon-hole them.

The
wife of the minister who ran the Baddour Center decided, a quarter
century ago, to risk putting together a choir at the Baddour Center.
She was no doubt aware that the project, if successful, would help
to change public attitudes toward retarded people. In the introduction
of the group and the hand-out literature, this goal is stated clearly.

When
the concert was over, the audience rose to give the Miracles a standing
ovation. The Miracles could see, once again, that they had exceeded
the expectations of the audience. They could enjoy what, as individuals,
most people never experience: the visible, enthusiastic acclamation
of a crowd. They knew that their work had exceeded expectations.

Service
to others is important for our sense of self-worth. So is positive
feedback. The Miracles provide a service. They get the satisfaction
of pleasing thousands of people every year. Someone asked Bob Hope
why he didn’t retire and go fishing. "Fish don’t applaud,"
Hope replied.

GOOD
WORK

Not
all of the residents are part of the Miracles.

But
most of them work.

They
live at a 120-acre community center 30 miles down the road in Senatobia,
Mississippi: the Baddour Center. The Center provides housing and
guidance for up to 172 residents. Currently, there are 166.

I
got in my van and drove down to see the Center. The facility has
a manicured look. Five of the residents maintain the grounds.

The
residences are very nice: multi-resident homes. From the outside,
they look like upper-middle-class brick homes. The residents are
not being warehoused.

Some
of the residents who can work are employed at the Center by FedEx,
whose national headquarters are in Memphis, close to the Mississippi
border, 35 miles north of Senatobia. FedEx farms out simple operations
to Baddour. Others work in the horticulture program, growing flowers.
The organization also receives donations. There is a vocational
training program. All of this is privately funded.

The
desire of each of us to have meaningful work is built into us. The
young child who wants to help a parent in some task is the norm.
Shiftlessness must be learned and subsidized. The Baddour Center
takes advantage of this inner impulse. Its
website says
:

The
desire to belong, to contribute and to be productive is important
to all of us. To be a team member, to feel as if we are a part
of something worthwhile, to know that we are making a difference
— it makes a day’s work worth getting up for — and it
makes us as individuals take pride in ourselves.

The
Baddour Center strives to incorporate these characteristics in
its innovative and creative vocational habilitation programs by
emphasizing production, quality and a sense of confidence to the
residents. Research has proven that by having a job, adults with
mental retardation (or should we say developmental disabilities)
are able to learn valuable daily living skills and reliable work
habits while building self-esteem through earning a paycheck.

The
Baddour Center offers residents training by professional staff
and the opportunity to work in a positive, encouraging work environment.
As a result, residents and day clients deliver customers quality
service while considering themselves employees of the contracted
companies who perform important job functions.

Residents
work about four hours a day. They are paid in terms of their productivity.
FedEx thinks it is getting its money’s worth.

SPECIALIZATION
AND OUTPUT

The
group’s musical director has a degree in music therapy. I had not
known that such a profession existed. After the concert, she told
me that it has been a recognized field for half a century.

She
said that the training is aimed at providing services for several
forms of affliction. People who have had brain injuries are helped.
Even some Alzheimer’s victims are helped. It was obvious that members
of the Miracles had been helped.

As
more capital is made available through thrift, the market allows
specialization. A field that did not exist in my youth now offers
workers the opportunity to serve handicapped people as a career.
Society makes such service opportunities possible, either through
charitable donations or, in the case of the Miracles, income for
services rendered.

This
is the miracle of capital. Thrift makes tools and training available
to all of us. Our increased output provides us with wealth that,
a century ago, would have been only a dream, and two centuries ago
would have been a hallucination.

Donations,
like everything else in a free society, get more bang for the buck
as specialization increases. The free market offers ever-increasing
specialization, which in turn creates opportunities for charitable
giving that did not exist a generation ago. We get richer and have
more to give. The compounding process increases everyone’s wealth
and output. Workers can better match their skills with opportunities
to serve. Donors can give to those narrow support activities that
more closely match their priorities. The music therapist has been
on staff for only three years.

The
Miracles were singing before she arrived. The therapy was having
its effect before a certified therapist arrived. But what was an
isolated experiment in Senatobia, Mississippi in 1979 can now be
more readily copied. There are now specialists who can repeat the
miracle.

THE
NICHE PRINCIPLE

When
you hear the Miracles, you get a lesson in the niche principle.
Each of those singers contributes phrasing and tone in a precise
way. As soloists, they are incapable of providing a masterful effort.
But in the group, the output is near-professional in quality.

Why?
Because, through music theory and training, each of those singers
matches his limited range to a specific part of the whole. Someone
has arranged the music. Someone else has worked with them as individuals
and as a group to fit together the output of each participant.

There
has to be a plan in the broadest sense: music, training, and practice.
These singers are also highly motivated. Motivation is not a matter
of IQ. Attending one concert by the Miracles ends any doubts in
that regard. The question is: How to provide motivation with an
environment in which it can flourish?

Listening
to them sing reminded me of the miracle of the free market. As individuals,
we have more potential than may be evident at first glance, but
without cooperation in an integrated, structured environment, our
work resembles those solos: not impressive. Yet because of the free
market’s principle of voluntarism, open entry (the legal right to
make a bid), and the information provided by the price system (success
indicators), we can make beautiful "music." There is no
earthly orchestra director, but the market provides outlets for
our various skills and personal motivations.

We
get paychecks rather than applause. We are more like those retarded
FedEx workers than the Miracles. But, day by day, we contribute
something to society, and society pays us back.

CONCLUSION

There
is an element of the miraculous associated with the Miracles. The
process is repeatable, so in this sense it isn’t miraculous. Yet
the performance is so improbable, according to our everyday experience,
that it seems like a miracle. We are reminded of how much people
can achieve if there is an opportunity, motivation, capital, and
dedication . . . and specialization.

I
was reminded of how much I can achieve because of capital formation.
Yet I was also reminded that, compared to the ratio of audible output
to visible input, these 22 retarded people are way ahead of me in
this narrow area of service. Starting with what looks like almost
no talent, they produce something of great value. I don’t mean just
the music. I mean the reminder of how blessed each of us is who
has an IQ above 95, and how wonderful it is to live in an era in
which capital investment has produced 2% growth per year for almost
250 years. We are the heirs of a discovery — private property — that
took thousands of years before it was really believed. Once believed
and implemented, however haltingly, it has produced a miracle.

May
4, 2005

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.

Gary
North Archives

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