Monthly Archives: December 2014

Thomas Jefferson

Since one of my daughters attends the University of Virginia, I get to go to Virginia every once in a great while. You may not know this, but Thomas Jefferson is pretty big around there. (This is kind of like saying that Henry Ford is “kind of big” in Dearborn, MI). Things tend to follow a tradition at UVA. That is, things tend to be done the way Thomas Jefferson wanted them done. One of those traditions is that students are referred to by their year in school. Thus, students are a “first year”, “second year”, “third year”, instead of a freshman, sophomore, junior, etc.

I love traditions. Especially when there isn’t a clear, single “right” way to do something. (There are some things that are done in the name of “tradition” that are just wrong and shouldn’t be done. That would be a different topic than this though). Referring to students by year is a terrific tradition. Any “outsider” can easily understand the system, it clearly connotes a status. It allows for some level of being an insider, if someone ask you if your daughter is a “senior”, you know that they are an “outsider”, without being so obtuse that someone can’t quickly pick it up.

On my latest trip, I was thinking about how Thomas Jefferson would react to today’s society. My family woke up in Dearborn, MI one day and was in Charlottesville, Virginia in time for dinner. Given that in 1800, it would take about two weeks to make it from New York to Illinois, I’m pretty sure that Thomas Jefferson would marvel at how quickly and easily we travel. We were able to visit my daughter over the course of less than a week. Two days were spent traveling. Well, actually, less than two days. We spent part of the travel day to Virginia visiting with my daughter. We spent part of the travel day returning to Michigan to “catch up” from traveling.

Beyond physical travel, I wonder how Thomas Jefferson would react to the virtual travel that we undertake. We video conference with my daughter regularly. We get to see her face, see her emotions, her body language, hear the tone of voice, etc. Through the magic of FaceTime, or Google Hangouts, it is almost like being there with her. How would Thomas Jefferson have used these tools? How different would the founding of America have been with remote tools and remote travel so readily available?

Heroes

When I was growing up, most of our heroes were athletes. I guess that is still the case. Of course entertainers are and have been “heroes” as well. Somewhere along the line, it became at least OK to be a Geek. (By the way, there is still an important distinction between a Nerd and a Geek. There is much debate over the differences and what those differences mean).

Recently, there have been a couple of news items that relate to heroes. Tim Cook recently publicly acknowledged that he is gay. Bill Cosby has been facing accusations of rape. I think that both are significant.

Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, Inc. Apple has become one of the darlings of popular culture. Apple is “cool”. The leader of Apple thus has some sway in popular culture. Apple recently bought Beats and brought in Dr. Dre to the company. Lots of kids use Apple products. Even more aspire to use them. Thus, Apple has a strong hold in mind share. Tim Cook has long been a private individual. He still is. He does point out in the article “Tim Cook Speaks Up”, that he doesn’t “seek to draw attention” to himself. Being the CEO of Apple makes that a very difficult task. At the same time, he also believes that he has benefitted from others who have blazed trails. Tim Cook publicly acknowledging that he is gay could very well help many kids who are dealing with that very discovery. It must make it easier to know that there is a man who happens to be gay who is running the most profitable and “coolest” company around. For an isolated teenager, this could be a piece of the puzzle that gives them hope. Mr. Cook adds some things in the article that I also think are important. He mentions for instance that he considers “being gay among the greatest gifts God has given” him. Many teenagers who are struggling with identification will be berated with their thoughts, feelings and considerations being “against God”. Hearing that it is the greatest gift that God has given Mr. Cook provides a counter argument. This is not to say that Mr. Cook’s letter will sway the entire world or America to being open-minded. It doesn’t mean that no teenagers will struggle with these decisions. However, it is another small step forward, another piece of evidence that we as a society are moving forward. When the CEO of the largest company in America, one dependent upon image and sales, can come out and say I’m gay, that is progress.

On the other hand, Bill Cosby is facing many allegations of rape. Bill Cosby was a hero to many. He had a great stand up comedy career. This was followed by a TV presence that was historical. Bill Cosby became just about everyone’s “Dad”. At least, he became the image of what a Dad could and should be. The Cosby Show transcended race. Although focused on an African American family, the show was watched and loved by all. It wasn’t an “African American” show, it was a show.

I was a Bill Cosby fan from early on. I still remember watching “Bill Cosby – Himself” on cable while getting ready to go to work. I was trying to eat dinner. Trying being the operative word. I had to give up and turn off the TV so that I could finish dinner and get to work. The Cosby Show was always entertaining too.

Bill Cosby was smart, funny and seem to have it all together. He seemed like a terrific role model. He seemed like a terrific role model for everyone. However, given that he is an African American, he filled an important role of demonstrating to African American males that there was a path to greatness. And that path was to do the right thing.

Now more than 20 women have come forward to say that they were drugged and sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. While it is true that Mr. Cosby has not been found guilty in court, public opinion has found him guilty at this point. There is simply no way that Bill Cosby can be held up as a hero. Whether or not he is found guilty by a court, there is an indelible stain on The Cosby Show and his position as a role model.

Hero is a word that is frequently overused. Way over used. So maybe the correct terminology would be role model. Mr. Cook’s public letter is a shining light of hope. I can respect someone who says that they want to keep a private life. That they haven’t made a secret of their life, but that they would rather keep the focus on their job. Yet, Mr. Cook has acknowledged that he has benefitted from others and he hopes that others may benefit from his writing (though he still hopes to keep as much privacy as possible). Bill Cosby has gone in the other direction. He has gone from beloved to despised. From a role model to a monster.

Given some of the other stories in the news, especially those focusing on police brutality of African Americans, we could all use some more role models. Role models who are also African American would be especially important. Where is the Dr. Martin Luther King of this generation? We could certainly use one now.