Ritch Addison and his wife, Margo Addison, in 2018.

Ritch Addison and his wife, Margo Addison, in 2018. / Ritch Addison

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Ritch Addison was a shy kid. In elementary school, he didn't speak up for himself, and he worried a lot. But once he got to high school, he decided he needed to change. And so he began to develop a sarcastic sense of humor to keep the other kids from picking on him.

"You know how sometimes people say 'the best defense is a good offense?' Well, that was what I was doing," Addison said. "I was covering up my shyness and my fears."

His new approach worked. He gained confidence and made more friends. And he started to become known for his jokes — like the time he poked fun at a classmate about a poor score on a math test.

"It turned out I had gotten a hundred on the test and he didn't do so well," Addison said. "And I kidded him unmercifully about it."

Then one day, his good friend Holly pulled him aside.

"And she said to me, 'You know, Ritch, sometimes you really hurt people's feelings,'" he recalled.

Addison was shocked. He had always seen himself as someone who made his friends laugh. He couldn't imagine that he might be hurting them.

"But I kept thinking about what Holly said, and I kept turning it over in my mind," he said. "Eventually, I realized that she was absolutely right. I started paying attention to how my humor was affecting other people, and I changed it."

It didn't happen overnight. But over the years, Addison worked on being more compassionate toward the people around him.

"I wanted to have a different kind of relationship with them," he said.

He went on to become a clinical psychologist. And now, he tries to help other people find more generous interpretations about themselves and others. Looking back, some 50 years later, he says he owes much of his change of attitude to Holly.

"She cared enough to say something to me, something that probably wasn't easy to say," he said. "But it was something that changed the direction of my life in a very significant and very gratifying way."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.