Dr. Temple Grandin lectures around the world on animal behavior and autism. When she visited Babson College yesterday, it was a dream come true for this Examiner who first heard Grandin's voice on NPR over fifteen years ago - and has been gripped by her story and her work ever since.
Grandin is not easy to describe, but the impact of being in her presence is unmistakable. In a culture that seems to increasingly value conformity, Grandin's power is her startling honesty about what she can't do and palpable pride in what she can.
At dinner following her talk, I commented "With the way your mind works, I'd imagine you would be good at crime-scene investigations." "Oh yes--" she said, nearly cutting me off. "I would be very, very good at that." She went on to describe to our table what was structurally flawed in the World Trade Center. She could tell, she said, from the photos of rubble The Chicago Tribune published following 9/11.
Work and purpose seem to be synonyms for Grandin. "When I was young, my whole world was cattle chutes. I was obsessed with them. I wouldn't stop talking about them... But people weren't interested in me talking about cattle chutes. They wanted me to build cattle chutes. Now my cattle chutes are all over the U.S. and Canada."
Indeed, half the cattle in the U.S. and Canada are handled in systems she designed.
Calling Grandin "unique" puts it mildly. As her book Temple Grandin states: "Humane activists and the meat industry may argue over many issues, but on one point they agree: Temple Grandin is a godsend for animals."
She's the only person in the world honored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as a visionary and inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame.
Grandin is most certainly a food entrepreneur: someone who honed in on a specific problem, deeply observed the system that surrounds it, used her mind, skills, resources at hand, and personal desire - and channeled all of it into a critical need of the food system.
Calling Grandin "brave" also puts it mildly. To love animals as she does, to think as they do, and then to stand in a meat-packing plant - particularly like the one she calls "the plant from hell" - and bear witness to their terrified, painful demise is indescribably heroic.
Grandin says what helps her get through such things is that "I can see how good things could be." Her commitment to translating what she sees into designs, systems, processes and change for the welfare for animals is unstoppable.
Much of the conversation, and the questions that Grandin fielded last night, revolved around matching minds to jobs. She clearly believes in hard work - not only for coping with being different from what others expect but also for leading a life worth living at all.
In my favorite line of the night, she said: "I'm seeing too many people get locked into the label... I'm not obsessed with autism. I'm obsessed with cattle chutes."
Temple Grandin's talk will be available on Babson's YouTube Channel on Monday, February 11th. Check back here for the link.