Category 2. Personal Perspectives

A Conversation with a Young Lady

Last night, prior to a board meeting, the trustees of Harlem Academy met with the school’s soon-to-be-graduating eighth grade class. The marvelous young lady with whom I spoke at some length will be heading off to a school in Massachusetts next year; she hopes to become a physician some day.

She asked me to explain why I work with this school, and why on a voluntary basis. Her attitude was one of genuine, polite curiosity.

I told her that the idea that everybody should have a chance to accomplish important things is one of the noblest characteristics of our country – it’s one of the values that bring us together. We are a nation of strivers, and fervent believers in merit.

Harlem Academy provides bright young people from underprivileged, inner-city backgrounds with a truly first class e...

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Under a Steel-Gray Sky

Two days ago I slipped in some mud while carrying my kayak up a hill. I caught myself, but in doing so I seem to have hurt something deep in my right shoulder. Since then the right side of my torso has ached.

This morning, at the suggestion of my Beloved Spouse, I went outside to sit in the hot tub by our pool. I am not really a hot tub guy – I have probably used it a dozen times in as many years – but she thought the heat and bubble jets might help lessen my shoulder pain.

So I sat in the steaming water under a steel-gray sky; to my surprise, my thoughts turned to an old friend.


Doug and I went to boarding school together. We got to know each other through rowing; he was a big, athletic guy – a gentle giant. Though we were two years apart, we became fast friends.

For we were n...

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A Traitor to My Class?

I do not give to Princeton, where I went to college.

Last Friday evening I had dinner with three close friends who among them have four Ivy League degrees, including ones from Harvard and Yale. In the course of our conversation I mentioned that I don’t give to my alma mater and added that the institutions that we graduated from have so much money that they are accountable to no one but themselves. None of my friends took issue with my comment – which is interesting, because all four of us have long made philanthropic commitments important parts of our lives.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton have endowments that total about $80 billion between them...

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The Clock

For many years, I worked on the 28th floor of a sleek building in midtown Manhattan. My office was pretty grand, and had wonderful views, but what visitors found most interesting about it was an antique clock that stood proudly against one wall. The clock would chime loudly on the hours, but I was so used to it that unless it startled a guest I rarely heard the bells. When I was asked what a grandfather clock was doing there, I would respond that it had been made in 1815 and was still elegant and keeping perfect time; and what was any of us making that would endure for two hundred years and still be loved?

I have a fondness for mechanical things because they are so … human, in a way that things powered by electricity can never be...

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Race, Social Class and Personal Brands

Out for a walk just now, I had an unremarkable experience.

I crossed paths with an African-American of perhaps 30, well dressed and groomed, wearing horn-rimmed glasses not unlike my own. Had we spoken, I would guess that his diction and intonation, and quite possibly his accent, would also have been similar to mine; his appearance and manner strongly suggested that we were of the same social class.

We smiled silent greetings and kept on our merry ways.

Let’s think about brands for a minute or two, before coming back to race and social class.

McDonalds and Coca-Cola have built enormous businesses on the comfort that consumers take from knowing exactly what they’ll get when they purchase burgers or sodas...

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A Loss

A wonderful man died yesterday.

Forty years ago, when I was in eleventh grade, I got word that one of my older sisters, who was then in college, was dating a classmate of hers who had gone to the same boarding school that I was attending. I was told that he had been the undefeated captain of the squash team at my school, just as he was at their college, so I ambled over to the gym to take a look at his pictures on the wall.

The face that stared down at me from the wall was exotic. He was Pakistani and had wild hair (it was the mid seventies). He looked a little crazy to me. At that moment I certainly would not have guessed that after a long, star-crossed romance he and my sister would marry and live in London.

He was raised mostly in the US, attended our finest schools, worked for our most...

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Older People

The following four posts focus on the wisdom that can come with age:

 Give and Ye Shall Receive (originally posted 2/25/13)

This past weekend, I went to my mother’s 86th birthday party. I will use the occasion of her birthday to spell out some thoughts on giving.

My mother is a remarkable woman. Had you been present at the celebration, or seen her in her assisted living residence, you likely would have been startled at the sheer number of adoring friends she has; it has ever been thus.

She worked in publishing in the early ‘50s to help put my dad, who had fought in World War II and attended college thereafter, through law school...

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Becoming a parent is a profoundly transformative experience. Being a parent is unsettling – permanently, but in a (mostly) good way.

Parenthood is life’s most interesting, frustrating and rewarding challenge – and the source of endless worry about things we can’t, and in many cases shouldn’t want to, control.

Love is far too simple a term for the bundles of interwoven emotions that make up the links between parents and children. Every describable emotion plays a part in such bonds, but for most parents, an affection like no other is the predominant strand. Right from the start, children command emotional loyalties greater than the ones shared with spouses, siblings and even parents. We know that they are the future.

The first gift that our children give us is the certain knowledge that we...

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The Internet, Life as We Know It, and Christmas

The Internet is a tool of astonishing power, but it is not an unmixed blessing.

Its dangers were prefigured with amazing prescience in the 1940s by Tolkien’s palantir. Like a palantir, the web exerts a powerful draw by offering us the ability to see whatever we wish; but, also as when using a palantir, we are watched as well as watchers: the web tracks us and subtly guides what we see. It gives us the illusion of control, while denying us the reality of physical human contact. Its world is a shadow of our own.

The Internet is a two dimensional world, but we live in three dimensions (or rather, four, including the great limiter, time)...

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