On Friday, Sept. 21, UNCG welcomed American actor, director, comedian and author Alan Alda. Alda is best known for his performance as the character Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M.A.S.H, which ran from September of 1972 to February of 1983.
To say that the UNCG auditorium was packed is an understatement. People from all over Greensboro came to see the famous six-time Emmy and Golden Globes Award winner. The event was filled with science, comedy and fun.
Alda is known to be an advocate for both the arts and sciences. When discussing his personal life, both early and present, he seemed rather comfortable being open with the audience about his experiences. He was very blunt about how he thought he was on his deathbed at one point in time due to health problems, and yet he still made a wayto lighten things up with a joke.
As the former host of “Scientific American Frontiers,” Alan kept the audience entertained with his stories and small experiments when it came to demonstrating science as well as communication.
He also discussed how communication and having empathy is how you connect with others. Today, people seem to have become disconnected from one another, but if one can relate to another person, then they can understand how that other person thinks and feels.
After the intermission, the opportunity arose for Alda to answer questions from the audience. When asked about how to communicate with people that have completely different political or religious points of view, he answered, “For me personally, that’s a wonderful chance to hear a completely different point of view. And to know how that person got to that idea that I find so hard to accept. I want to hear more from them, I want to hear what’s beneath it.”
He further continues, “I’m not talking about neo-Nazis and I’m not going to walk away with that philosophy, I still would hate the philosophy. But maybe I will be changed by the sincerity of the pain that [the] person is in and that’s how I see the source of their hatred. And maybe I will have a more human response to that person because otherwise, the next step would be a fight.”
Alan goes on to discuss the idealism in today’s climate.“Maybe the idealism of the ‘60’s is not appropriate to this time,” he says. “Maybe we need to be more practical. Because … there’s so much at odds with one another. Maybe idealism is too extreme sometimes.”
Alda is then questioned about how being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease has changed his life. He jokes, “Well it’s given me a whole new round of exercise.”
He continues to answer with, “The way that our country regards to Parkinson’s now is we fear that dismay because we’re very aware of people at the end state of Parkinson’s. Which can be really sad for many people, but doesn’t always happen to some people. In a diagnosis when you have very early symptoms, there are things you can do to make it better. To hold off the progression of the disease and can minimize the symptoms. And you can live with the minor symptoms as the disease progresses.”
As the conversation shifted, Alda discussed what was the most valuable thing scientists can learn from people dedicated to the field of the arts. He says, “It’s really important, I think that science cannot be done emotionally or on the basis of a nice personality. By that I mean you have to be dejected.” He further explains that it makes the job a lot harder for them.
Finally, the acclaimed actor explained what made the tv show M*A*S*H so popular. “Actually, there were wonderful actors and writers that represented the show that I think what made it work is that we were lucky enough that all of us wanted to tell the story of real people. Who really went through a harrowing experience,” he explained.
“And it was funny and serious- sometimes melodramatic. But at the core, we were telling stories about people who wished they were someplace else. But they had to save lives. And they almost went crazy doing it.”
One student at UNCG said of the event, “It was great. It was incredible to see another side of him, I had no idea that he was also an advocate for science and an author. It was really cool to see how witty he was in real life, and how open he was about being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.”
Alda brought his wit, intelligence and life stories to Friday’s event. His inspiring talk was sure to touch many people in the audience that night and helped foster a conversation surrounding art, the beauty of conversation and the power of connecting.