Conversation: Ben Carson
Benjamin Solomon Carson’s illiterate single mother struggled
to raise him. Yet, he emerged from poverty to become a renowned pediatric
In 1985, Carson began performing the hemispherectomy, a
medical procedure once abandoned as too risky because it involves removing a
damaged half of the brain as a treatment for severe seizures. Two years later,
Carson led a team that successfully separated the first Siamese twins joined at
the back of the head. No other doctor had been willing to attempt the
operation. In 2003, Carson joined a surgical team that unsuccessfully attempted
to separate 29-year-old Iranian twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani, whose skulls were
As director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins
Medical Institutions, Carson, 56, still performs some 400 surgeries per year in
between writing books and giving speeches. Carson faced his own medical
challenge after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002, but is now
Carson and his wife, Candy, have three grown sons. The
soft-spoken surgeon, whose newest book is Take the Risk: Learning to Identify,
Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk, talked recently with TPE News Editor John
tpe: You believe parenting is a great risk.
CARSON: Yes, in the sense that there’s really nothing more
important that we do in life than give kids the correct foundation. The values
we give them will determine what kind of people they become. That, in turn,
will determine their effect on their community, their nation and the world.
When parents have a couple of kids, they have within their grasp the potential
to change the world.
tpe: Are dads too protective of their children?
CARSON: Certainly some tend to be overprotective and don’t
let their kids experience life. That might work if parents would spend the rest
of their lives with their children. But at some point children must be released
to face the world.
tpe: Why is it best not to listen to well-meaning advisers
who try to dissuade us from taking risks? You had a medical school adviser who
urged you to drop out.
CARSON: A lot of times people mean well, but they
underestimate the person they are mentoring. If you don’t think a person is
capable of much, you’re not going to advise them to take on much. An adviser
must look at where the person has come from, what they’ve accomplished, what
they’ve overcome. If my medical school adviser had done that, he wouldn’t have
told me to stop.
tpe: Regarding risk, talk about the importance of inviting
God into the conversation.
CARSON: We live in a politically correct environment now.
Certainly you take a risk mentioning Jesus Christ in a public setting, even
though ridicule of Christianity is antithetical to the founding of this nation.
The Founding Fathers were very interested in freedom of speech and freedom of
thought. Political correctness tries to curtail that. In making sure no one is
offended, the politically correct offend large portions of the population.
tpe: The Bible is full of accounts of men and women who took
risks for God.
CARSON: Absolutely. If you look at the biblical heroes, none
of them waited in their tents for something to happen. They took big risks,
sometimes risks that looked impossible, but they had faith in God. To some it
seems like a risk to even believe in God. I have many discussions with great
scientific minds, and I’ve realized they really don’t have the answers. What
they believe is a matter of putting faith in theories of men, which can’t be
proven. How can you prove there was a big bang and all of a sudden the universe
perfectly came into order?
tpe: Why is it better to try and fail than not to try at
CARSON: Because we learn a lot of things when we try. A baby
falls a lot when starting to walk. But we don’t allow the baby to sit in a
wheelchair forever. The rest of life is the same way. In the case of the Bijani
twins, these two women felt incarcerated. I encourage people to put themselves
in someone else’s shoes.
tpe: Do you believe many Christians miss out on God’s
blessings because they are afraid of stepping out in faith?
CARSON: Exactly. When God said to Moses, “Touch the Red Sea
with this rod,” what would have happened if Moses said, “Come on, give me a
break”? We tend to forget what God does for us. That allows doubt to creep in.
How can God do something if we’re not willing to let Him?
tpe: Where is the line between taking a risk and acting
CARSON: This is where the best/worst analysis comes in. God
gave us a tremendous brain to analyze situations correctly. Youngsters who do a
best/worst analysis won’t act irresponsibly. Analysis may not mean you will
always find a nonrisky path, but that’s where faith comes in.
tpe: Why have you taken medical risks in situations that
many other doctors deemed too dangerous?
CARSON: First, I do the analysis and, in many cases, I see
there is no good outcome unless I do something. Even more importantly, I pray
and ask God to give me wisdom to know what to do, whether to do it and when to
tpe: If you hadn’t taken an educational risk — if you
didn’t go to Yale University, the only place you applied — where would
CARSON: I’d probably still be in Detroit working in a
factory — or dead. At my 25th class reunion, all the “really cool guys”
from high school were dead.
tpe: How will God help men with their shortcomings, such as
a violent temper?
CARSON: It has to be something you want. God says, “You will
find Me when you seek Me earnestly with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 4:29). God
doesn’t force himself on anybody. But God will not turn His back on anyone who
comes with a meek and contrite spirit and says, “Help me.”
Because God loves us, He also knows what’s good for us. It’s
not necessarily wealth or power, because those destroy some people. So often we
have our own concept of how God should be helping us. Are you willing to make
yourself completely vulnerable and totally submissive to God’s will?
tpe: How is your health?
CARSON: It’s wonderful. I’m so grateful to all the people
who prayed for me and my cancer. I think the Lord just got tired of hearing
TPExtra: An excerpt from Take the Risk by Dr.
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