Grieving an Ethos, Ctd.

Following up from my post on Steve Jobs, I decided soon after posting that I needed to make one addendum.

Lots of folks have been throwing Jobs’ name into lists including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, among others, and I think those particular two men raise an interesting point: they were both, reportedly, pretty abysmal human beings. Edison was apparently rabidly litigious and brazen in his filching of credit for others’ ideas. Ford was, of course, a virulent anti-Semite. But both men changed the world in ways that have proved to far outshine their uglier sides.

Steve Jobs, according to most reporting, was not the easiest guy to work for, accused by many of getting what he wanted by being abusive or a bully. I can’t speak to any of this, of course, and it’s unsettling to think of it. To be fair, he is also widely reported to be a great dad, a great friend, and a genuine lover of humanity. The point is that he was, like everyone, not perfect, and he probably caused a lot of unnecessary grief in his time. As the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta wrote yesterday:

You know, one of the things that’s interesting about Jobs is that in many ways he was not a nice man. And yet he was a brilliant man. He was not particularly kind to people. Ultimately, we won’t remember the personal cruelty; we’ll remember the great products. Ideally what you want to have is a greater balance between being nice and being effective than he achieved. But one of the questions is whether he could have achieved what he achieved if he were nice.

I’ll take that further. It’s okay to acknowledge his failings, his coulda-beens, and still feel a deep, painful sense of loss and despondency at his passing.

As someone who may not have been “a nice man,” he was certainly one of the crazy ones, in the best sense. No diss to Richard Dreyfus, but Steve’s was always the voice that belonged in this bit of transcendent ad copy.

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