Archive for October, 2011

Steve Jobs eulogy by his sister Mona Simpson

October 31, 2011

I’ve been quite taken by the life and death of Steve Jobs the last few years.

The phenomenal success of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been astonishing. You can’t help but pay attention.

But ever since I watched Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University, I’ve been fascinated and inspired by his viewpoints on life, and perhaps even more, death.

I don’t think most people talk about death. And I think that’s a shame. Because being more deliberately aware of death provides an opportunity to be more consciously aware of life, and hopefully, more appreciative of this time we have here together.

Now with the release of the only authorized biography of Steve Jobs, entitled Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, we’ve been seeing excerpts and press from all angles. Walter Isaacson even appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN and talked about Steve.

Yesterday, the New York Times published Steve’s sister Mona Simpson’s October 16, 2011 eulogy of Steve delivered at the Memorial Church of Stanford University. I read it, cried throughout, and openly sobbed and wept upon completing it. Perhaps it’s not really that moving. Somehow for me though it is.

I am so inspired by the way this man approached death, eyes wide open, surrounded by the ones he loved, giving and receiving comfort, love, and support all the while.

Clearly, he was a remarkable man, with an extraordinary spirit. Despite whatever harsh manner he’s known for around the workplace, this man was clearly inspired and there was something special here. If nothing else, just the way he approached everything with such deliberate consciousness.

Why I never liked competitive sports, Dad

October 21, 2011

I’m writing this blog entry to let my father know a little bit more about me. He’s dead three years now, but I assume he’s listening somewhere. No one else probably is – no one reads this blog, from what I can tell.

I never liked competitive sports. I only spent a few weeks on my Little League team when I was a kid. My mom says I had a great swing, that is, when I actually connected with the ball, which was about 1 out of 10 times at bat.

My fielding performance was even worse – I bet Mom would say that I was really good at catching the ball, when the ball ended up in my glove.

So I didn’t like Little League much. I remember telling my mom that I was thinking of dropping out, and I remember her saying to me that I could do whatever I wanted of course, but she was concerned that if I quit, I’d feel like a quitter. But of course I was free to make my own decision. She gave me enough rope to hang myself.

I did drop out. And ended up feeling like a quitter. Go figure. Thanks for putting the idea into my head Mom. She gave me free will to quit, but didn’t just say, “Sure honey, you can do whatever you want, either way, it’s fine.”

I’ll never know if I just sucked at baseball, or if my poor performance could have maybe, just maybe, been attributed to the genetic eye disease I inherited from my mother that gave me some visual difficulties even at a young age.

All this being said, I don’t think I like competitive sports in general. I didn’t seem to like games in which there’s a winner and a loser. It seemed too harsh an environment to me. And these days, we see games with winners and losers played out a lot. I can point to the rash of Survivor-style elimination TV shows, like Survivor, The Sing-Off, The Biggest Loser, The Apprentice, etc.  But you also see it with our fascination with celebrity – the celebrities are the winners, the rest of us are the losers.

Then there’s politics, in which people intensely campaign to be the winner and to vanquish their opponents.

And countries go against each other and try to be the winner, and the other will be the lower.

It’s winners and losers everywhere you turn.

Somehow I was a softer kind of character, and this seemed all too harsh an environment to me growing up. Of course, there was one area where I was the winner and others the losers – academics. I got great grades and graduated near the top of my high school class and went to an Ivy League school. But we’ll leave that on the table for now.

My dad was always debating something, usually sports, politics, or morality. And in his debates, there was always a winning opinion – that one was always his. And there was always a losing opinion – that was always the other guy’s, and it seemed to me the other guy was me, whenever I spoke with him about anything.

Somehow, I grew up, or got older at least. And I discovered eastern philosophies, in which they teach that when one takes up a banner to oppose something, they invariably give more energy to that thing they oppose.

Let’s take an example – my dad, having grown up during World War II and being Jewish, dealt a lot with the topic of the Holocaust. As a matter of fact, he said that when he was young, just after the end of the war, concentration camp survivors would come to the United States and live with Dad’s grandparents until they got on their feet. He said these people were fresh from the camps, and were emaciated and had deep, darkened, sunken, far-off gazes. They were like ghosts, shadows of people. And this deeply affected him, in ways I could never pretend to comprehend or fully appreciate, not having lived in this time and through these experiences.

Naturally, being a Jew so imprinted at such a young age with these Holocaust experiences, Dad thought Hitler was bad. He thought prejudice was bad. He thought intolerance was bad. All reasonable decisions for someone in his position to make. He strongly believed that “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to stand by and do nothing," a quote that has been variously attributed to Nobel Peace Prize winner and noted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and 18th Century English statesman Edmund Burke.

I’ve always felt funny about that quote. I remember it being plastered on a poster on a wall at the Port Authority Bus Terminal as an advertisement for the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. My issue with it is that it seems to separate (segregate?) humanity into two categories of people – good people and evil people. I feel uncomfortable with that concept. For one, it would seem to separate people from each other – it would separate the good people’s camp from the evil people’s camp. Second, it perpetuates the war between good and evil. Third, it perpetuates the very notion of evil. Even the famous Garden of Eden story from the Old Testament said that the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was becoming aware of that distinction that exiled us from the Garden of Eden, the original Diaspora. Fifth, who is to decide who is a good person and who is a bad person – who is qualified to pass that judgment? My father certainly thought that he was – he thought he was a good person for sure. And people like Hitler and Ahmadinejad were bad people. Well, perhaps they are. But there’s something so “holier than thou” about being so sure that you’re a good person and being really clear about who the bad people are.

I prefer to subscribe to the more eastern philosophy, that each of us has both good and evil inside of us.

“Win-win” is a concept you hear bandied about quite a bit these days. I am familiar with a community of people who believe their founder, a man named Victor Baranco, first put forth that concept. His idea, as best as I understand it, was that when two people come together, it is most fulfilling for them if they both look to ensure that both of them walks away from the interaction feeling like they had won. That they each were so pleased with what they were walking away with, that there was even some good stuff left over to spill out onto the people around them. This was the concept of win-win.

Competitive games presume that one side will win while the other side loses. What Vic said was that when the other guy loses, you can’t really be winning all that much, because you’ll be aware the other guy lost, and you won’t feel really good about that. Or if not that you won’t feel good, he surely asserted that you’d feel better knowing that both parties were very happy.

This is a concept that seemed to elude my Dad. I’m sure he would have understood it on an intellectual level. But when interacting with him, he often didn’t act as though he came from this place. Of course, he was an attorney, and one who liked litigation, and what is litigation if not the perfect example of a game in which one party wins while the other party loses?

So I suppose I showed up like a bit of a pussy to him. He’d always want to suck me into some argument of one sort or another. I felt like I couldn’t express an opinion about anything without him taking the opposing side and arguing with me. Of course, one could say, “Who cares that he did that? Let him do what he wants. Why should it bother you so much?” A good point, to be sure. But it always did bother me. Perhaps it was that I felt I never got a rest from it. It happened as well as I can remember during my entire life with him. Mind you, he wasn’t just looking for a debate, or prompting me to express an opinion so I could define myself. If I ever actually tried to justify why I felt a certain way, my memory is that he would berate me and call me stupid for having whatever viewpoint I was professing. I think he thought he was just being provocative and soliciting people to have strong opinions, but I don’t think he was aware that he’d insult me and was quite intolerant himself.

So I don’t go in much for competitive games. I like to “win” as much as the next guy. But I think I define “winning” differently than a litigation lawyer would. To me, winning is enjoying myself. Maybe I don’t have that fighter in me. I always felt like Ferdinand the Bull, who would rather sit in the meadow and enjoy the smell of the flowers than flare his nostrils and charge at a matador.

Of course, usually the charging bull gets killed by the matador.