A Fresh Perspective: Swastikas, Uncle Tom and a Nerd

This last week has been a series of situations and experiences that have given me pause. I pride myself in helping people get a new perspective on their challenges and opportunities. The idea is to jolt people out of their semi conscious existence of accepting the status quo and the great inclination of playing not to lose rather than going for it. In these attempts at guidance and direction, I often am the recipient of the jolts, the slap upside the head that wakes ME up. This occurs when I listen to myself 🙂 or mostly when the reactions are poignant or unexpected. A few examples:

  1. Swastika Attack—-I regularly show the Sanskrit swastika and describe its 3000 year old origin. I describe how an evil man in Germany bastardized this beautiful symbol for his horrific purposes 90 years ago. We let him change this ancient sign of providence and good fortune into his concocted meaning. I do this to disrupt the audience's thinking and assumptions. After my talk, a very nice man told me how much he enjoyed my talk but he was very offended by my "lighthearted use of the swastika". He became quite emotional and would not let me speak. He told me to stop using this in my presentations. As he left me he said, "it would be as if you used an image of little black sambo!" I apologized for upsetting him and said that I did not understand the last reference as he disappeared from earshot. Whoa, did I shift his perspective or did he shift mine? Clearly I never intended to offend. But I always want people to question their perspectives in order to advance their opportunities. Should the swastika be banned from the land of appropriateness because it was usurped by a psychotic maniac? Maybe more to the point, should one complaint make me change my speech and my public ideas? 
  2. Uncle Tom's Lesson—I attended my nearly 94 year old uncle's memorial and celebration of life. It was a moving and special set of remembrances that were both inspirational and insightful. His story was the quintessential American immigrant story of great obstacles and great triumphs. With humble beginnings my Uncle Tom built a farm business with his brothers from scratch. He served his country in the army as part of the famous 442 infantry unit. He endured discrimination and intolerance for most of his professional life. Yet he not only succeeded but he thrived. His success was so much more than the financial and reputational. He lived a full life. He made his extended family a priority. He enjoyed his passions. He had no regrets when he left us. My cousin, his daughter, was very pleased about the day and the event. She was disappointed that some told her that they wish her father was still here. She asked them why? How much longer should his life have been to be the right length? My mother spoke about her brother and said something that got everyone's attention, "Death truly awakens life."  While I think this is true I wonder why lifeUncle Tom can't awaken life? My sister commented that no matter how much we know someone we never Know them. I agree emphatically. And we never will. The perspective of a sister, a spouse, an employee, a friend are all different. They are all incomplete stories of the story. That's what makes us each unique and different. The questions is, "Did we know what we should have known?" Did we have the deeper conversations to understand one another in our respective roles? This is the stuff of regrets and the source of life's questions. At the end of this wonderful day, we learned that Uncle Tom Saburo Obata tended to his relationships with the same relish and rigor he did with his crops. He woke up everyday to nurture and grow the people around him. Now that's a life to hold up and admire. 
  3. Nerd Network—I attended a community foundation conference last week and went down to the exhibit area to see if there were any vendors I wanted to meet. I spotted a software system called the Common Grant Application. I liked the booth and the ideas it conveyed. I introduced myself to a techie, long haired guy in his 50s who looked and spoke full NERD. I know this because he referenced Farside and Star Trek in the first 3 minutes! He connected with my inner nerd. Jeff was a knowledgeable guy and I quickly sensed his expertise but also his wisdom–he gets it! As he was deftly demo-ing his product, it was clear he knew his customer–both the grantor and the grantee of funds. I started to ask questions about his background and his experiences. He would say superficial things like "I am just a coder" or "I worked in the tech field". I have learned that humbleness is often a disguise or a diversion. So I pressed on. I learned in our 60 minute conversation sales pitch, that he has had his own foundation for years. That his development of this product grew out of his frustrations with the grant application process foisted on grantees by well meaning foundations. He finally revealed to me that he was essentially the former CTO of Intel! Just a coder?!! He retired years ago formed his foundation and and evolved into a philanthropist with a deep understanding of the grantees. We meet people everyday and never know who they are. We work with, live next door to, and talk to people we never know. Every person you meet is a fortune cookie with a set  of connections, wisdom, life's lessons and history that could change our own fortune. 
Another eventful week of reminding me of how precious life is. That we can not measure our life in years but in the relationships that are meaningful to both. That we barely know the people we are with. And even when someone tries to stop you, you listen and learn and then press on with your mission. Life is a journey of connections, reflections, and a constantly informed perspective that makes us want to be better. 
Thanks for reading. John

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4 thoughts on “A Fresh Perspective: Swastikas, Uncle Tom and a Nerd”

  1. Thank you john. Learning to be more awake each day together in this world.
    Your last writing reminded me of a favorite poem by max ehrman
    “As far as possible without surrender
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.”

  2. Hi John – I came across your blog tonight. Truly this past month has been an awakening of the mind for many friends and colleagues with whom I’m connected.
    Life is so precious and fragile yet we can help nourish, enrich and strenghten life through the people in our lives.
    Sorry we missed everyone at the celebration and hope we can connect soon!

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