The Dignity and Art-Science of Making Mistakes

Daniel Dennett on making mistakes:

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are. … The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark.

We have all heard the forlorn refrain “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance.

In fact,  one of the hallmarks of our intelligence is our ability to remember our previous thinking and reflect on, learn from it, use it to construct future thinking. Reminding us to beware our culture’s deep-seeded fear of being wrong, he advocates for celebrating the “ignorance” that produced the mistake in the first place:

So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves), and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions. Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity. But that is not enough: you should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them.

Scoop

My dad, Scoop, lives at the Minnesota Masonic Home in Bloomington, Minnesota. He is 87½ years old, his hands shake, he uses a wheelchair, and he doesn’t hear well. He also has a sharp mind and clear and curious brown eyes. He stays engaged with the world around him through books, television, and newspapers. Right now he is busy learning to send and receive email on his MailStation machine. He types with the eraser end of a pencil. The administrator of the Masonic Home talked to him recently and wants to publish one of the three manuscripts Scoop wrote in the last several years.

Scoop dresses neatly every day and charms his guests with nursing home jokes and quick compliments. His room is organized and interesting. Photos of kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren line the walls along with my photos of Africa. He has his books, tapes, radio, and remote controls near his motorized recliner. Six feet tall and 200 pounds, his grip is firm. Harriet, my mom and his wife of 63 years, died two years ago. Harriet died a slow and difficult death, and it was a hard time. That’s when I got to know dad.

Scoop spent 28 years in St. Cloud, Minnesota as the circulation district manager for the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper before he and Harriet moved to Minneapolis after he was promoted. He believes in doing his best, and he worked hard to serve the newspaper’s customers and the young people he supervised.

Newspaper circulation work is demanding. A new product is distributed daily (in those days, two products a day) and it is a daily challenge to keep the distribution network together, and to serve thousands of customers. He was away from his family many early mornings, weekends, and evenings as he worked to provide for his four children and help others in need — customers and newspaper carriers. After a 42-year career with the newspaper, Scoop and Harriet moved to Fountain Hills, Arizona for a 15-year retirement before moving to the Masonic Home.

He believes in service and often said he gained his college education through his involvement in the community. He led most groups in St. Cloud including the high school PTA, city council, church council, junior and senior Chamber of Commerce, and the local Chicago Cubs minor league baseball team. This work took him away from his family often. We wished he’d been home more. But he attended almost all of our school activities and events, and he was there for us when we needed him.

Scoop taught us to be responsible. I was especially free-spirited and got into a fair amount of trouble in high school. Once, on a beautiful spring day in my sophomore year, I decided to skip school with a friend. At noon we walked down a street far from home on our way to meet friends for lunch at a gas station. Scoop drove by, stopped, and directed me into the car.

I said, “We can go home and you can write me an excuse, and I can go back to school after lunch.”

Scoop said, “No, you will go to the principal’s office right now.”

He knew I would be marked down one grade in each class I had missed. I never skipped school again and rarely missed a college class. Dad was, as he liked to say, fair but firm.

When I was cut from the basketball team for violations of team rules the night before the district tournament began, dad, who loves sports and felt proud of me, was deeply disappointed.

He said, “Our family will go to the game together.”

And we did. I learned to face my mistakes head-on. Dad never hit, he never yelled, he never played games as he held me accountable and made me be responsible for my behavior. He refused to enable anyone to behave in destructive or irresponsible ways. Many years later, I would get in trouble with alcohol. Scoop again told me the truth, arranged for treatment, and, perhaps, saved my life. Dad wasn’t always appreciated for his courage and commitment to do the right thing. But those lessons served me and my free spirit well in my life.

Scoop is an independent man. He learned his independence as a child who grew up in a large family during the depression. He paid his bills on time, worked for what he got in life, lived on his own from a young age, and handled his own problems. He sticks by his kids always but doesn’t overindulge them or do their growing up for them, because he knows they have to learn to handle life for themselves. He stays connected to his children but lets them live their own lives, as he lives his own life, and does not meddle or use them to meet his own needs. His adult children struggled at times, as most do, and he remained calm and steady. He suffered for them and bore the pain his children brought him privately. As his children went through life, he was always there for them, even when he did not agree with their choices and even when they disappointed him.

Dad is resilient. He learned his resilience as a young polio victim who spent three summers at the Shriners hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His mother took him to the hospital, left him (she had a house full of kids back home to take care of), and he spent months alone. He learned to handle life’s difficulties on his own. He keeps his feelings to himself, handles his losses by himself, and has a can-do attitude about life. He especially does not want to burden his children with his difficult feelings and problems.

Scoop and Harriet came from German and Scandinavian families and lived lives of moderation. They were private and faced life’s challenges with determination. They did not show their emotions to others, they did not complain, and their kids never saw anger expressed in front of them. Considerate and thoughtful, they had scores of friends everywhere they lived. Never hugged as a child, Scoop was not demonstrative emotionally.

Mom began to move toward death in January of 2000. Arthritis hurt her terribly, she had great difficulty walking, and her memory and ability to think began to deteriorate. She could no longer do the things she loved to do. Scoop was with her each and every moment and adapted his life and routines as she deteriorated. I believe Harriet decided, at a deep level, to die to this world and did the only thing she could to bring the end about — she quit eating.

The medical community tried to fix her, the family, of course, tried to fix her, and Harriet, in her quiet and dignified way, just did what she wanted. She could never tell anyone she wanted to die; she probably could not acknowledge her wishes to herself consciously. That’s my theory; I might be wrong.

Finally, after many months, everyone agreed to make Harriet comfortable and allow nature to take its course. Family gathered around her for weeks and sat with her, read to her, and talked to her.

I sat many days and held her hand. I wished I knew this quiet woman better. A loving, gracious, and beautiful woman, she always deferred to Scoop and kept her thoughts to herself. I just accepted the context of our relationship as life went by. As I sat with her, I regretted not working harder to know her better and deeper. As she lost weight, her appearance changed. I saw only her wonderful soul. Near the end, many of us encouraged her to let go. Her work was done. Dad would be fine. We would be okay. She could move on through death’s door. And finally she did.

I spent much time with dad during mom’s final months, during the funeral process, and in the months after. I watched dad’s heart break as he gradually accepted that his wife would die. I watched him struggle with feeling helpless and out of control. I saw his agony on her last day. He could not bear to see Harriet labor so hard with life. He directed the funeral plans. The obituary appeared in the newspaper as he wrote it. The minister read the notes about Harriet’s life as dad wrote them. He made all the arrangements. He could handle things if he stayed busy and controlled what he could control.

We buried mom the day after the funeral service. The May morning was cold, rainy, and windy. I shivered and joined dad in the car to keep warm. He was shaken. Tears welled in our eyes. We were to say goodbye to wife and mother in a few moments. My heart swelled with love for my dad. I knew then how much he loved my mother, how much he loved me, and, at that moment, in my 54th year and in his 85th year, our hearts connected. I told him how proud I was of him for how he had handled things. I told him I loved him. He choked out, “I love you too.”  My mother, who loved her family, would have been happy.

I watched Scoop adapt and go on with life. He moved to a new room, he began new projects, he got up and dressed up each day, and he traveled to visit children in California and Maryland. I went to live in Colorado, and we talked weekly. He clipped articles from the newspaper and sent them to me.

I live a few hours away now and visit dad when I am in Minneapolis. I call him weekly and we exchange emails. Expressing emotions is still hard for dad, but he is more open than ever before. I know he is lonely. He misses mom and isn’t afraid to cry when he talks about her.

I feel close to my dad. I like that. I know he loves me. I know he is proud of me. I can see pride in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I am grateful for what we have today. I understand the context of his life. I see what he gave me in my life, and I love him for that. He provided, he protected, and he modeled the values that served me well in life. That is how he loved. Scoop is a good person, a loving father, and a kind man — he always was all of those things.

I like to think about my dad and my life with him now that I have lived a life of my own, made my own mistakes, had my own successes, struggled with my own children, and am slightly less self-absorbed than in my younger, more self-righteous years. My vision of what could be is clearer, my understanding of how we are formed deeper, and my heart is more compassionate for imperfection than in younger years. I have a better idea of what love is and I am better able to carry my share of the relationship responsibility that grown up children must assume if they are to mature as people.

My dad was not perfect — no parents are, and no children are. He was not a mind-reader — we need to ask for what we need and express our hearts to those we love. He had his own challenges in life. He met life head on and overcame himself, the physical handicaps of polio, and life’s trials. Today dad thinks about and prepares for his own death. He doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Everything is taken care of. Recently he asked me if I would write his obituary for him. I felt moved and sad; I don’t want him to leave just yet.

I’ve had more material things in my life than dad had in his. I’ve had more career experiences and more formal education. But, deep down, I know that this everyday hero is a better man than I am. He remains my model for living and a beacon for who I can become.

Excerpted from: Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership

Fulfillment Comes from Struggle

And yet fulfilling work doesn’t come from the path of least resistance. Viktor Frankl’s famous treatise on the meaning of life:

What man actually needs is not some tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.

Walter: We Salute You

I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced. At a time in their lives when their days should have been filled with the rewards of starting careers and families, their nights filled with love and innocent adventure, this generation was fighting for survival ─ theirs and the world’s.  —  Tom Brokaw

The flag-draped coffin rested before us as we walked into the small Lutheran church in rural northwestern Minnesota.

I looked at 93-year-old Walter Scheffler. I thought of the man I had known — not well — for the past four years. Walter was a quiet man with bright eyes and a big smile. Since the death of Violet, his wife of 53 years, in 2002, Walter continued to live on the farm — active and engaged — until he was 91 years old.

I noticed a blue cord on Walter’s right arm as I thought about his life.

Walter lived close to the land: born on the family farm, he attended a one-room school and nurtured the earth for a lifetime; he tilled the soil and fed his family and the world.

Walter wove his daily routines of work, family, church, leisure, and community together to form an interconnected life of wholeness and balance. He intertwined his days with the land, the weather, and the seasons. He worked the fertile earth, fished the blue lakes, and hunted the deep forests of Minnesota. He lived his life in a dynamic and symbiotic relationship with people, animals, and nature. Birth, growth, and death were accepted as part of the natural cycle of a spiritual life. Meaning and purpose came naturally.

Life on the farm was interrupted from 1941-45 when Walter served his country in World War II. An army infantryman, he was a rifleman in California; the Aleutian Islands; Kodiak, Alaska; Germany; the Ardennes Mountains; and Central Europe. He experienced and then lived with the horrors of war. He was a good soldier — courageous and honorable.

I looked at Walter a final time and whispered “God bless you.” We sat with family at the back of the church. The church hushed and the dozen or so honorary pallbearers marched to the front pews. These veterans — some old, some middle-aged, from wars long ago and far away — represented the grandeur of the human spirit. Their time as a generation was coming to an end; their work was almost done. I felt a deep respect for their nobility and steadfastness to one of their own.

A young man rose and walked to the lectern. He stood tall and spoke from his heart:

The Lord God has created all people for a purpose. We are created in His image to glorify and honor Him. We have the capacity to love and to hate, to hurt and to rejoice. We have it in us to be whatever we put our minds too.

However, throughout history there have been times where men were defined by their actions within the era in which they lived. In my heart, I believe that men were still defined in the context of our heavenly father.

That being said let me speak of a certain era where men were defined by their actions. Their heart and their character were expressions of the man that God had shaped and called them to be. WWII was such an era.

For the first time in our history, the Selective Service was put into action. Halfway through the war the age of service was dropped from 21 to 18. Our brave fathers, husbands, sons, and friends were called to fight in a foreign land against a tyrant that cared nothing for God, His people, or His creation.

Against a tyrant that was bent on world domination, these are men [who] fought for what they knew to be right. Men who lived and fought for the honor and character that was instilled into their life.

Grandpa was such a man. If you spent enough time with him you may have been privileged to hear one of his countless stories from his time overseas during WWII. He was one of millions of brave soldiers that the United States called into service.

They didn’t ask to be a part of this war, but their country called them and they responded with honor and character. They rallied to the greater good, shed their blood, gave their lives, and defended our freedoms from tyranny.

Grandpa served in a time when the gallant distinction of infantry, and what they bring to a battlefield, was not fully honored.

General Washington selected the color blue to distinguish his tough and resolute infantry in the Continental Army from other types of soldiers. General Lafayette chose a light blue color to outfit his American Infantry Corps. For the next 120 years, the official infantry color alternated between blue and white until 1904 when the army officially adopted what we now know as “Infantry Blue.”

In 1951, the army leadership sought to encourage and recognize foot soldiers [who] were bravely fighting intense battles in Korea. They soon adopted the Infantry Blue Cord. This cord would only be worn by fully qualified infantrymen and would announce for all to see that these men would be on the front line when our nation was at war.

I had the honor of serving our great nation as one of those honored and distinguished infantrymen. I was awarded the coveted Infantry Blue Cord. I then served out my time in the military burying our honored dead at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.

It is with a heavy heart and great honor that my coveted blue cord is now placed on a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather in recognition of the service he provided, the man he was, the life he lived, the man that God called him to be, and the man that is now enlisted in the heavenly ranks.

I love you Grandpa. Thank you for the brief time I had with you, and all the lives you impacted. I look forward to the day when I will see you again, and stand with you in the ranks of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Some wept openly — others silently — at this young man’s fire, idealism, and reverence for his wife’s grandfather. I looked at a frail old man seated in front of me. Tears wet his face.

We drove as a pilgrimage to the cemetery in the country. We gathered under the canopy that sheltered the coffin of the humble man we honored. The cold wind blew and snowflakes dotted the gray land and forlorn trees prepared by fall for the sleep of winter. We huddled close together and shivered from the frigid breath of nature as tears became ice on our numb cheeks.

The minister gave his final blessing, and we said the Lord’s Prayer together in voices that trembled.

The young man who spoke at the church, a former Army Ranger, folded the American flag — slowly and with precision. He stepped forward and pivoted to face Walter’s son Rodney, flanked by sister Beverly and brother Richard. Walter’s seven grandchildren wept openly at the power and deep dignity of the moment.

The proud infantryman whispered: “Rodney, it is truly an honor and a privilege to be able to present this flag to you in recognition of grandpa’s dedicated and faithful service.” He saluted smart and strong. Rodney, eyes glistening, returned the tribute.

The honor guard of old men stood behind us on the boundary of the cemetery and a cornfield. They pointed the muzzles of their rifles over Walter’s casket and fired a 3-volley salute. A trumpeter blew taps.

Walter returned to the earth he loved:

He was bound to the land from the day of his birth

His roots anchored deep in the fertile earth

Nurtured, sustained, by the soil he grew

And his life, like his furrows, ran straight and true.

In faith, each spring, he planted the seeds

In hope, to reap his family’s needs

With patience, he waited for the harvest to come

To gather the fruits of his labor home,

Ever turning seasons, the years sped past

Til the final harvest came at last.

Then claimed anew by beloved sod

He was gathered home to be with God.

(Final Harvest by Barbara W. Weber)

If we have consciousness after death, I am certain Walter was surprised and honored to the depths of his soul by the love and devotion his durable life of dignity and decency called forth in those who loved him.

At the end of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” an aged Ryan visited the grave of the soldier played by Tom Hanks, who had saved him. Ryan was an average man who worked, raised a family, and lived an everyday life. He knelt at the grave and said with great emotion to his wife: “Tell me I’m a good man. Tell me I’ve led a good life.”

Daughter Beverly answered Ryan’s questions for Walter: “He provided for us, protected us and cared for us. I’m glad God sent him to be our Dad.”

We salute you Walter Scheffler.

Excerpted from Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership

Rules for Success

British Novelist Amelia E. Barr on success:

Men and women succeed because they take pains to succeed. Industry and patience are almost genius; and successful people are often more distinguished for resolution and perseverance than for unusual gifts. They make determination and unity of purpose supply the place of ability.

Success is the reward of those who “spurn delights and live laborious days.” We learn to do things by doing them. One of the great secrets of success is “pegging away.” No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.

No opposition must be taken to heart. Our enemies often help us more than our friends. Besides, a head-wind is better than no wind. Who ever got anywhere in a dead calm?

A fatal mistake is to imagine that success is some stroke of luck. This world is run with far too tight a rein for luck to interfere. Fortune sells her wares; she never gives them. In some form or other, we pay for her favors; or we go empty away.

We have been told, for centuries, to watch for opportunities, and to strike while the iron is hot. Very good; but I think better of Oliver Cromwell’s amendment — “make the iron hot by striking it.”

Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration. For genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly.

Be orderly. Slatternly work is never good work. It is either affectation, or there is some radical defect in the intellect. I would distrust even the spiritual life of one whose methods and work were dirty, untidy, and without clearness and order.

Never be above your profession. I have had many letters from people who wanted all the emoluments and honors of literature, and who yet said, “Literature is the accident of my life; I am a lawyer, or a doctor, or a lady, or a gentleman.” Literature is no accident. She is a mistress who demands the whole heart, the whole intellect, and the whole time of a devotee.

Don’t fail through defects of temper and over-sensitiveness at moments of trial. One of the great helps to success is to be cheerful; to go to work with a full sense of life; to be determined to put hindrances out of the way; to prevail over them and to get the mastery. Above all things else, be cheerful; there is no beatitude for the despairing.

Apparent success may be reached by sheer impudence, in defiance of offensive demerit. But men who get what they are manifestly unfit for, are made to feel what people think of them. Charlatanry may flourish; but when its bay tree is greenest, it is held far lower than genuine effort. The world is just; it may, it does, patronize quacks; but it never puts them on a level with true men.

It is better to have the opportunity of victory, than to be spared the struggle; for success comes but as the result of arduous experience. The foundations of my success were laid before I can well remember; it was after at least forty-five years of conscious labor that I reached the object of my hope. Many a time my head failed me, my hands failed me, my feet failed me, but, thank God, my heart never failed me.

The Moment of My Life

I see trees of green, red roses too; I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.”   —  Louis Armstrong

August 16, 2003

I’d waited forever …

The cloudless sky was blue and the temperature 92 degrees in Kragnes, Minnesota. A gentle breeze blew through the trees. I looked out from the deck in front of the small chapel. My son and my two brothers and Melanie’s best friend and two daughters stood with me. My friend, the Reverend Doctor Steven Streed, was next to me.

Melanie came down the aisle on the arm of her son. She was beautiful. My heart filled with tears of happiness, and I smiled. Melanie and I would commit our lives to one another in just moments.

I scanned the 150 family and friends and saw my dad with tears in his eyes — Melanie’s mom too. I watched as Melanie and Matt approached us. I thought how my life had changed over the past few years. My journey to this moment had been arduous and its fulfillment was moments away.

I had divorced three and one-half years earlier. The decision was difficult to make at age 54 after a 35-year marriage, and I thought long and hard about the choice. I would divorce with no guarantee that I would ever find the kind of relationship I yearned for. I saw the possibilities for joy and for despair; I was not naive.

I was filled with excitement about new possibilities as I ventured out onto my own. I wanted to marry again, but I also wanted to take the time to make a good transition and to learn more about myself. I also felt sad about the losses in my life and anxious about the unknowns: What would happen to me? What if I had a heart attack in a month? Who would help me? Would I lose the love of my children? Was I crazy to give up financial security? Would I ever find the right person to be my partner in life? I feared ending up old and alone. My mother died shortly after my separation and my mentor — best friend, and colleague — Diane Olson died unexpectedly a few months later.

I moved to the San Juan mountains near Ouray, Colorado to grieve, to fulfill a dream, and to renew myself. I wanted to spend time in the wilderness of my life where I could pause and reflect, ponder, and imagine. I spent 14 months in the San Juan mountains and then moved to Fargo, North Dakota where I had lived for the previous 17 months. Our journeys in life often take us to unexpected places.

The marriage of commitment between Melanie and me was the most significant moment of the rest of my life. For me, the ceremony signified much more than the important ritual and celebration of marriage. This singular moment represented the culmination of an adult lifetime of disillusionments followed by new hope, endings followed by new beginnings, despair followed by deeper authenticity, and confusion followed by illumination.

The faint of heart do not take spiritual journeys. Personal freedom takes us down roads not traveled before. We cannot know ahead of time how our choices will turn out; we can only influence the larger forces of life — we cannot control them. Anyone who says they possess unquestioned faith and a clear and certain path deceives him or herself from the anxiety of choice and the vulnerability of authentic risk.

I chose my personal and professional journey intentionally, as an act of authenticity and spiritual exploration. I often found my quest to be lonely and painful — filled with doubt, vulnerability, and uncertainty as to the rightness of my path. At times, I wondered if I had taken on more than I could handle, which was the only way to find out how much I could handle. I also found my odyssey to be filled with the excitement and aliveness that courageous action can provide. Beneath the anxieties, I always felt a strong confidence. My challenge was to stay true to my vision, values, and purpose despite insecurity and ambiguity. I met the test.

As Melanie came to me on the deck, I thought, “How I love her.” Melanie has the greatest soul I have known. I was astounded when I first got to know her. She had wounds, she had imperfections, she was spontaneous, and she rang true. Her naturalness captured what I tried to articulate when I talked and wrote about authenticity. I soon said to Melanie, “You personify all I am trying to become and you don’t even know of your perfect humanness.”

Her humble origins served her well: She grew up in a family of ten children. She began picking weeds in the bean fields when she was eight years old. At 10 she hauled garbage. As a teenager, she waited on tables in a cafe and cleaned rooms in several motels. Then she worked as an operator for the telephone company. She settled into a large organization and advanced to the top of her profession. She became a great leader.

I took Melanie’s hand on the deck of the chapel. The service was simple: two songs, two spiritual readings, a brief sermon, and prayers. Melanie and I faced one another and read the vows we wrote together. We committed our lives to one another. Soon the service ended and Pastor Streed introduced us as “Mr. and Mrs. Tom Heuerman.” We kissed. The church bell rang, and we walked down the aisle. Louis Armstrong’s voice moved us.

                  I see skies of blue and clouds of white

                  The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

                  And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

 

                  The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

                  Are also on the faces of people going by

                  I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

                  They’re really saying I love you.

I never thought such goodness would happen for me. I felt grateful to find love and intimacy at that time of my life when it would have been so easy to accept less.

What a wonderful world.

The Impact a Single Person Can Have

Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, who famously coined the seminal theory of multiple intelligences, echoes Anaïs Nin in advocating for the role of the individual and Susan Sontag in stressing the impact of individual acts on collective fate. His answer, arguing for the importance of human beings, comes as a welcome antidote to a question that suffers the danger of being inherently reductionist:

In a planet occupied now by seven billion inhabitants, I am amazed by the difference that one human being can make. Think of classical music without Mozart or Stravinsky; of painting without Caravaggio, Picasso or Pollock; of drama without Shakespeare or Beckett. Think of the incredible contributions of Michelangelo or Leonardo, or, in recent times, the outpouring of deep feeling at the death of Steve Jobs (or, for that matter, Michael Jackson or Princess Diana). Think of human values in the absence of Moses or Christ.

[…]

Despite the laudatory efforts of scientists to ferret out patterns in human behavior, I continue to be struck by the impact of single individuals, or of small groups, working against the odds. As scholars, we cannot and should not sweep these instances under the investigative rug. We should bear in mind anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous injunction: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.’

Brain Pickings