Richard P. Feynman. One of the most widely-known and loved Physicists in the world. Not for his genius, but for his ability to think out of the box and live life with a “Who cares what others think” attitude.
He broke the mold of how a Physicist should live and behave. He was erratic; full of zeal and wonder. Often seen as shameless; he talked about his talent in the field of women, played the bongos, cracked jokes while delivering lectures, and even drew the Feynman Diagrams on his Dodge Maxi-van. His daughter was quoted saying:
“I think decorating the van was more to celebrate the diagrams than to celebrate himself.”
When he decided to take a break from Physics, he took up biology and started accompanying a friend to the biology lab.
Source: The Caltech Archives
Richard P. Feynman was also a brilliant teacher of theoretical science. After being selected in the highly secretive Manhattan Project during WW2, he had a brief stint at teaching at Cornell University, which later pursued him like crazy when he accepted a professorship at Caltech.
Throughout his lifetime, people were more drawn to him owing to his laid-back sense of humor, down-to-earth personality, and unintimidating style of teaching the most complex things.
This article has been written to shine a light on this very aspect of Feynman’s personality; The effortless way in which he could poke fun at someone without them even realizing it, ask for what he wants without asserting it, and listen to praises without letting it get to his head.
This little anecdote begins with Physics Today, a prestigious membership magazine of the American Institute of Physics, and the time they took the liberty to put Mr. Feynman on their mailing list without his consent. Of course, they assumed that as a physicist, he would be more than interested in a specially curated magazine on physics.
They were wrong.
And Mr. Feynman was not amused.
And although he didn’t start talking until he was three years old, boy did he know how to put people in their place with his words.
When physics today sent him a questionnaire in the mail, he wrote to them asking to be removed from their mailing list. An excerpt from the letter reads:
“I never read your magazine, I don’t know why it is published, please take me off your mailing list. I don’t want it.”
Of course, when the editor read this letter, He was mortified. He wondered what went wrong, since his magazine is specially written keeping the interests of physicists in mind, and if a renowned Nobel-prize winning physicist says he doesn’t want it, there must be something wrong.
So he wrote back to Feynman, asking what was wrong with the magazine and if he could give any suggestions to improve. He also added:
“If physics today is not the magazine physicists want and need, we would like to supply what they do want and need.”
Feynman’s response to this is innocently cheeky, unintentionally funny and so Feynman.
Mr. R. Hobart Ellis Jr.
New York, New York
I’m not “Physicists,” I’m just me. I don’t read your magazine so I don’t know what’s in it. Maybe it’s good, I don’t know. Just don’t send it to me. Please remove my name from the mailing list as requested. What other physicists need or don’t need, want, or don’t want has nothing to do with it.
Thank you for spending all the time to write such a long letter to me. It was not my intention to shake your confidence in your magazine- nor to suggest that you stop publication-only that you stop sending one copy here. Can you do that, please?
Richard P. Feynman
What You Can Take Back Home From This:
1. Stop Being So Nice!
Say it like it is. Don’t fall into the trap of giving explanations when it’s not asked for, or feel guilty because you feel a certain way about something.
Feynman could have gone into a lengthy explanation about why he didn’t want a copy of the edition. He could at least be a little nicer, he was talking to the editor for gods’ sake. But he didn’t waste time trying to be liked. He didn’t feel guilty that he was refusing something that was practically being handed out to him. He wasn’t ashamed of the fact that being a physicist, he was turning down a physics magazine. And he certainly didn’t feel the need to explain why he didn’t want it, nor did he dwell in any niceties.
Yes, it’s not always easy to be straight-forward and nobody wants to hurt the ones they love. And that calls for a whole another article but for once, let’s focus on the ones we don’t love, or know very well, or have never met.
Why should you beat yourself up just to be nice to them?
You don’t always owe people an explanation for the way that you feel about things.
Sometimes it may hurt the other person, but at least you’re not lying to make them feel better, which is good. And believe it or not, they will get over it. People have a life to live, and will not ponder over what you said to them “that one time”. Besides, It’s more important that you do not carry the burden of guilt.
2. Don’t Play Games.
If the answer to something is no in your head, Just say it. Don’t just say it. Scream it if need be. No need to sugar-coat the truth, or play games to make it hurt less, just be upfront. Don’t waste the other person’s time, and yours too.
I won’t say more, only leave this comic here, which explains everything.
3. Life Is Short, You Can’t Care About Everything!
Look. You may be a physicist, but that doesn’t mean you should care about every single development in the field of physics. You could be an Entrepreneur, but you don’t have to follow every Instagram page that talks about entrepreneurship. there’s nothing wrong in loving something and drawing a line to how much you indulge in it.
In the same way, you only have so much time and energy to spend. Please don’t take it upon yourself to make sure everyone you interact with leaves thinking of you as a nice person. They won’t. Don’t bother yourself with the milkman, or that co-worker who never looks your way. Stop it, stop it this instant.
Focus on the ones that love you. Look after them, and pay attention to their feelings. Be nice to everyone, but bother yourself with the ones who love you (Not conversely, because we love a lot of things that don’t love us back).
The richness of our life finally boils down to the number of lives we’ve added value to; the amount of lives we’ve touched, and the love we’ve given and shared.
It’s all about the small things.