Resources in Resilience


The Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage Podcast

By Maxwell Svec, One Summit, Director of Programs

By Maxwell Svec, One Summit, Director of Programs

I've been following journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell since I was introduced to his work in college by one of my sociology professors when I was assigned to read his third published book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Since then, I've read almost all his books, listened to several of his podcasts, and even saw him speak live in Boston a few years ago when he came to town on a book tour. I enjoy his work because Gladwell can get me to think differently about my life and everyday concepts. I truly admire his ability to explain complex ideas, theories, and hypotheses through storytelling, making them easier to comprehend and appreciate. So recently, I was thrilled when I discovered that Gladwell has released a new podcast called Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage


This newly launched podcast from Pushkin Industries and iHeartMedia dives into tales of some of the brave recipients of the highest military award in the United States of America, the Medal of Honor, and is an exploration of the courage, sacrifice, and heroism of those awarded it. The first episode came out just last week and is entitled, "Courage is Contagious: Mike & Tommy." To my surprise, it just so happens that Mike and Tommy are two retired Navy SEALs. Gladwell already had me at "Courage is contagious," but this first storytelling episode featuring SEALs? How about that for aligning with the work we do here at One Summit?


The lead episode, featuring Michael Thornton and Thomas Norris, both Navy SEALs and Medal of Honor recipients, focuses on Michael's mission with Thomas behind enemy lines in Vietnam in 1972. As I listened, I realized the podcast's potential as a valuable resource for our community. The sentiments expressed in the podcast mirror the statements often heard during our Climb for Courage and Climb Higher programs, making the parallels between the podcast and our experiences at One Summit unmistakable. 


As Mike and Tommy's mission takes a substantial turn for the worse, a familiar form of problem-solving is mentioned in the episode. "It was a series of problems that would seem overwhelming to anyone. But Mike broke down the big problems into components," says Gladwell. Breaking down seemingly impossible goals into more digestible bite-size pieces is often spoken of repeatedly during Climb for Courage weekends, as our mentors support our Little Warriors in reaching their goals on the rock wall. Instead of being overwhelmed by the distance to cover between the floor and the top of the wall, how about focusing solely on that next hand or foothold instead? Once you reach that next hold, what about the one above it? Can we get to that one? Before they know it, the Little Warrior arrives at the uppermost reaches of the climbing gym, a culmination of seemingly small and insignificant steps taken one at a time with courage and resolve. 


From there, the likeness between my experience in the One Summit community and the podcast continued. While I don't want to give too much of the story away, it's a powerful exploration of the contagiousness of courage, and it's easy to see why Malcolm Gladwell chose this story to set the stage for the rest of the podcast episodes to follow. Gladwell notes, "One of the things that happens when you listen to enough Medal of Honor stories is that you begin to realize that courage is not a birthright—it's a choice." He goes on to share:


"You've probably heard the saying, 'Courage is contagious.' It's one of those bits of folk wisdom that turns out to be true. Research has shown that seeing, or even just hearing about, an act of courage makes it more likely that you will be courageous yourself. The scientific term for that idea is prosocial contagion. When you witness kindness or heroism, two separate areas in your nervous system are activated. Your awareness is heightened, your desire to protect others grows; you catch your heroism from others." 

- Malcolm Gladwell


We frequently feel that way on our One Summit team—we are consistently inspired by pediatric cancer patients, their families, and the Navy SEAL mentors in our program. They push us to be better, do more, and be courageous in our own lives. We also see it deeply woven into the relationships that form between the Little Warriors and their Navy SEAL mentors. We often witness the SEALs in awe of the courage and resiliency of the patients, siblings, and their families. Conversely, we frequently see the kids and their families in awe of the fortitude, bravery, and sacrifice of the Navy SEALs. Especially during our Climb for Courage and Climb Higher programs, courage certainly presents itself as contagious among these groups. 


Given the podcast's resonance with the experiences of our Navy SEAL mentors and our Little Warriors, I believe the One Summit community will find great value in Malcolm Gladwell's new podcast, Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage. With new episodes released weekly featuring different stories, the podcast will continue Gladwell's examination of courage, bravery, heroism, and what it means to sacrifice by highlighting Medal of Honor recipients, spanning from the Civil War to the Iraq War. I’m already looking forward to listening to this week’s new episode on my way to the One Summit office.

Listen to the Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage podcast and the “Courage is Contagious: Mike & Tommy” episode here.


To learn more about Navy SEAL Medal of Honor recipients Michael Thornton and Thomas Norris, click on each of their names. Each name will link you to their respective Congressional Medal of Honor Society webpage, which includes photos, a description of the recipient's actions that led to his Medal of Honor award, and a video in which each man talks about his experience in his own words.