John Hope Bryant – Be An Eagle

John Hope Bryant explains the lesson he learned from a poor selfless Indian man and uses a metaphor to deliver an inspiring message.


I got beat up every single day. I was 10 years of age, we didn’t have that much money, so my mother used to dress me funny. She made these purple crushed velvet valor suits and a big, big bow tie, and sent me to school in Compton California dressed like that. It caused me to understand that eagles don’t fly in pecks. From my mother I got this quote, “There’s a difference between being broke and being poor. Being broke is economic, but being poor is a disabling frame of mind, and a depressed condition of your spirit, and you must vow never, ever, ever to be poor again.” I was in India and I was … I had gone to this university, and I had spoke there, and after I left I got back to the hotel and I realized I didn’t have my wallet. I called the hotel and I said, “Can you please bring the car back? They have my wallet.”

They said, “I’m sorry, sir. We don’t have a car, that was a taxi.” I became a little cynical. I went from hopeful, to skeptical, to cynical and I started thinking the worst of people. Of course, I said, “My wallet is gone.” By midnight they called and said, “We’re still trying. He’s not answering the phone, the taxi cab driver.” At 2:00 in the morning they called and said, “He answered his phone. His phone was off. He’s coming back to your hotel with your wallet.” I get dressed and I run downstairs, and a man meets me and the bellman translates for me in India, in the dialect, and I reach into my wallet and there’s $70 U.S. I reach out and I say, “Let me give this $70 to you. This is my way of saying, ‘Thank you.'” The man says, “No.” I said, “No, I don’t think you understand. I’m talking about paying you. I’m talking about giving you a month’s worth of your salary.”

One more time, he said … This time he became a little visibly angry. He said, “I told you, no. I didn’t bring your wallet because I wanted a reward. I brought you your wallet because it’s your wallet.” I said to the man, “What can I do to be thankful to you? What can I do to say, ‘Thank you?'” He said, “The next time you’re in India come to my house and have tea. Be my friend.” You gain more by giving. You get more by building. You learn more by listening. There are three types of birds. There are eagles, there are buzzards, and there are turkeys. Eagles are high altitude birds. They’re regal. They’re not arrogant. They’re not pompous, but there’s a certain regal-ness to an eagle. Then you got another kind of bird. It’s a buzzard. Buzzards are always stepping on your head to elevate themselves.

The worst kind of bird is a turkey, because a turkey’s got wings and can’t even fly. All they do is profile, translation, trying to be something they are not. I’m now going to come right to you. What kind of bird do you want to be?