Better Off Dead?

11 babe ruthIf resurrection becomes permissible, would reanimating legends diminish their utility?

Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and other pioneers all had measurable impact in our world. Their contributions continue to resonate through time; but, if we had the power to bring them back, I’m skeptical that their intellectual currency kept pace with inflation—perhaps they work best in our memory.

Let’s draw an example:

It’s often said by baseball pundits that Babe Ruth, arguably the best player of all time, couldn’t hold a candle to modern major leaguers. They argue that these days, it’s hard to fathom him edging-out stars who’ve been trained in highly-competitive talent development leagues since diapers.

If Babe Ruth—The Great Bambino—were to miraculously return to baseball, we’d be risking what he means to baseball, possibly tainting what he is to so many people. (Just ask any three-year-old who the best baseball player of all time is.)

In this way, Babe’s most useful as an ideal, not as a player.

Reanimating the thinkers and doers first mentioned in this entry could have a similar effect: it’s not that restoring Albert Einstein wouldn’t be beneficial to science and mankind; it’s that in all likelihood, he’s no smarter or able than modern scientists who have followed in his footsteps.

A living Einstein couldn’t possibly create the edifice as a dead one could; much less could he meet demand for his time. Likely, his active involvement in the scientific community would be lackluster compared with the great expectations for him; and, likely, he’d on-par with the rest of the active community.

Like Babe, Einstein’s most useful as an ideal, not as a player. To further the risk, if Einstein proved not to be a modern-day Einstein, his reanimation could detract from his story.

Perhaps this is true for living legends as well.

Though, as an afterthought, a postmortem comeback to the top would be an impressive feat, one that would create a new benchmark for legend; but, we do need to recognize the possible (and likely) deleterious effects associated with returning the idea of a specific person—an idealistic person—into human form. Having it be a net benefit would be a long-shot, one pragmatism should prohibit in almost all circumstances.

Deconstructing Robin Hood

Robin Hood ArrowThis world needs a new Robin Hood.

The Robin Hood you’re familiar with stole from the rich to give to the poor. But really, it sets the wrong precedent: the poor become accustomed to rescue, and the rich become irritated with a maverick whose sole mission is to bridge the wealth gap while waiting for an absent and benevolent king.

Machiavellian economics aside, this is just stupid.

The peasants have more ability than they realize, and in many cases it takes a Robin Hood-type character to shift the paradigm. But, Robin Hood himself falls short of becoming a real hero in failing to bridge the real communication and economic gap. Hood and his band of merry men do little in their activities other than to apply band-aids and irritate the wound, providing little more than hope and brief relief to a struggling population while fostering resentment in another.

What they’re missing is empowerment.

Recently, new not-for-profits (and not-just-for-profits) have begun to address these problems both domestically and abroad. These organizations don’t support impoverished people and groups with handouts, but rather makes strides to shift the paradigm and teach people how to help themselves.

Two favorites are Kiva and the Acumen Fund, both of which take capital and invest it in populations that most financial institutions won’t touch due to perceived risk. The results of their efforts have been staggering and encouraging, and I urge you to learn more about what they’re doing.

There’s also Robin Hood Foundation, which takes aims at causes of poverty, but their branding choice does what they do a little bit of disservice: you don’t want to be Robin Hood. But if not him, who?

What we really need is a new character; or, perhaps, a new character metaphor. Robin Hood just isn’t sufficient or sustainable, nor can this type of change be appropriately epitomized by just one man or woman.

I’m open to suggestions.

Good People Day 2008, Part I

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It takes more than a good person to declare a flash holiday; it takes one genuinely good person.

Outside the SXSW Bloghaus in Austin last month, some guy was hanging near the door handing out wristbands. Me, a sucker for swag, approached the guy and said, “Hey, can I have one?” He turns to me, says ‘sure!’, and hands me a wrist band. “Thanks!” I said, “My name’s Michael. Who are you and what’s your story?” 

And that’s how I met Gary Vaynerchuk. Up until that moment, I hadn’t heard of Gary or winelibrary.tv. We spoke for a couple of minutes about how crazy I thought he was for answering his thousands of daily e-mails in lieu of delegating. Then it struck me as not so crazy: here’s a guy who cared so much about his job (wine) and his community that he made it his lifeblood. (I’m omitting a joke about transubstantiation right here.)

I ran into him later that night in the lobby of a hotel where about a hundred people had gathered. I went over to say hello but before I open my mouth he puts bottle of wine in my hand, “Gruen! Take this!” (I wasn’t wearing a name tag), raising another bottle to toast mine. At 2am, this man has energy.

“Gary, we’re so hanging out when we get back to New York.”

“Definitely! Now DRINK!” [sic]

Three days ago, I went to New York’s NextWeb Meetup and ran into Gary. Though we hadn’t talked since SXSW, he remembered me and we went right back to shooting the shit, with me making fun of his e-mailing habits.

So, it should come as no surprise that Gary could galvanize the social media world and beyond in an unedited two-minute video clip. Today is Good Person Day 2008, so spread it on.