Strong Opinions, Loosely Held

John Gruber wrote these words regarding Steve Jobs.

That’s probably the most concise thing I could use to describe how I approach life and especially technology. I think it’s how every rationalist should approach life. Be strong in your opinions and be prepared to defend them. But when you’re not winning or you’ve just been proved wrong, apologise, adapt to the new information and move on.

I remember being told that I needed to apologise more by a person who, in my entire time of knowing them, never once apologised for anything. But I persevered because sometimes it’s important never to sweat the little details and every person you meet helps shape you into the person you’re becoming. I do apologise, especially when given the chance. I try and adapt to the new information or the new status quo, and I try and cope with the aftermaths. This is how we handle change. It was Charles Darwin who said:

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

And so interpersonal relationships and the ability to maintain and repair them must be important.

I hear a lot of people talking about Steve Jobs as if he was a monster. But that wasn’t my impression. I met him once at Apple Expo and he was warm and welcoming (as you might not imagine a powerful CEO with a reputation as a mercurial monser meeting a tiny, inconsequential customer to be). I conversed with him over email in September 2001 to explain that it was important not to let terrorists dictate the future (Lessons learned from Northern Ireland!) and his reply was one of the deepest concern for the safety of his employees and customers. Much more human than could be imagined. And so I’m left with the impression that Steve was human, that he loved and disliked like any human, but most importantly that he was loved – not just by his family or the whirlpool of blind hordes but by colleagues, peers and co-workers.

After a day of working with performance and intolerance (actually a performance of intolerance inspired by Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed), I am moved to think of the microaggressions that plague us. Whether that’s disparaging a man you never met, or refusing to hear out someone who’s trying to apologise; the effect is the same. Boal wrote:

“Dialogue is defined as to freely exchange with others, as a person and as a group, to participate in human society as equal, to respect differences and to be respected.”

I’ve been ruminating on these words.

One of my favourite movies, Serendipity, has a powerful quote which inspires the remainder of the Heros Journey. I doubt there is any evidence to the veracity of it, but it rings true for me at least.

You know the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: ‘Did he have passion?”

Well? Do you?

I do.

John Wesley wrote:

“When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn.”

And whoooo-boy that’s true.

When I burned, everyone turned up with marshmallows. And really I don’t blame them. There was immense entertainment in watching someone engulfed, I’m sure. The same sort of hecklers who gloated that Steve struggled with his personal beliefs on clean living before succumbing to his cancer. The same sort of lovely people, many of whom would be fine, upstanding pillars of the community, who rejoiced when Christopher Hitchens was succumbing to his own cancer, wondering loudly what he would do after a lifetime of denying God. Crikey, 2011 was a sucky year for my heroes.

So, in short, be kind, forgive, be passionate about your ideas but hold them loosely.

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