It’s the season of giving and who better to talk about giving than an entrepreneur, by definition one whose enterprise is based on the premise of giving without expectation of return.
Yes, I may be overstating it just a little. Plenty of people can talk to you about giving, and most of you can give your own treatise on the subject. The readers of this newspaper are a generous group, as we note and celebrate each year in this annual “helping hands” issue.
But still we entrepreneurs have a special interest in the giving game. For most of us the impetus to start a business is not to create a business empire or even to accumulate personal wealth; rather, it’s to meet some creative impulse that we think someone, somewhere will appreciate. And making money off that is the last motivator.
I first heard this idea from George Gilder, the author of “Wealth and Poverty” and the inspiration for Ronald Reagan’s economic policy, whom I was interviewing in 1981 for People magazine. I may not have fully appreciated at at the time, but I felt it later, when I started this paper.
And it continues. I was chatting recently with a fellow newspaper publisher, and mentioned that on several occasions this year I have added four pages to an edition to make room for some editorial material that I felt deserved to be printed — even though the number of ads would not normally justify that size paper. I did it because I wanted to give the readers a little more content, and I hoped some of them would appreciate it.
OK, responded the publisher. What was the ROI on the extra four pages? ROI — return on investment — was something I had never even considered. And I had no idea if any commerce had come out of that decision to give the readers another four pages of content. But I felt good about doing it.
My son Frank, along with his colleagues in the Princeton High School Studio Band got a taste of the giving game earlier this month at the 70th commemoration of the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii. Princeton was chosen to represent New Jersey at the commemoration and one of the band’s performances was at Pearl Harbor, with the Arizona and Missouri battleships looming in the background. As band director Joe Bongiovi reported in an E-mail back to the school, “during the concert a Pearl Harbor survivor came in front of the band and stood there for about 10 minutes, tapping his foot. Eventually someone got the gentleman a chair. He sat directly in front of the band and waved his hands to the music and closed his eyes.”
But the man couldn’t stay for the entire concert. After about a half an hour he was escorted off to a television interview. When he returned the Princeton High concert was over and the band was packing up. The veteran introduced himself as Allen Bodenlos, who had been the bugle master of the harbor and remembered wistfully that he had been asked on December 6, 1941, to start a dance band at the harbor.
Seventy years later this veteran had another wistful moment. He asked if the Princeton band played Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” The Princeton kids had indeed played it — while he was being interviewed. And then they ended the show with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” an obvious favorite of the man who had been the bugle boy at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago.
The veteran’s disappointment must have been painfully obvious. The band director’s E-mail from Hawaii tells the rest of the story:
“Although we were almost completely packed up and the audience had left, I asked him if he would like us to play ‘In The Mood’ for him again. His face lit up and he smiled and said, ‘Would you?’ Our kids could not get their instruments fast enough to play for him.
“We set up for him and I asked him if he would like to conduct. He asked me what tempo we played it at, and I told him for right now, it was his band and they would play any tempo he wanted them to. He conducted the entire time. Immediately afterwards, we played ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ for him again as well.
“He then asked if he could take a photo with us, precisely at the time we were asking him the same thing. At the age of 91, he climbed up the five or six stairs to get the band and thanked and praised them. He then spent the next hour standing in front of them telling him the stories of being at Pearl Harbor during the invasion and how he survived. It was a very moving day.”
Giving without expectation of return. The band had nothing to gain by playing a small private set for the Pearl Harbor survivor. But the kids made his day. He, in turn, made a lasting impression on the kids, who can someday share with their grandchildren memories of both Pearl Harbor and 9/11.
A few days after the band returned from Hawaii, a jazz ensemble, including my son Frank, performed at an event honoring Rev. Bob Moore, the longtime director of the Coalition for Peace Action. As the boy’s father, I was the last to know about my son’s appearance at this event. I found out the next day, when I received the following E-mail from a writer who was at the event:
“I’m just home from the program of the Coalition for Peace Action where your son, Frank, after performing with a group from the Studio Band, delivered a wonderful talk about the band’s recent experience at Pearl Harbor. He was eloquent and interesting and a pleasure to hear. You should be proud of him.”
As one who tries to appreciate gifts in whatever form they take, I am going to wrap up that E-mail and put it under the tree. As for any other gifts I can muster for the special people on my gift list, that’s another matter. How many shopping days are there ‘til Christmas?
More Thoughts On Cyber-Bullying. Last week’s comment on Dharun Ravi, the Plainsboro teenager who will stand trial for invasion of privacy and bias and intimidation against his gay roommate, quoted a letter from West Windsor resident Kathy Bybee. That letter was printed in the December 16 edition of the West Windsor-Plainsboro News and has drawn some provocative comments on the News’ website, www.wwpinfo.com.
Commented one reader: “I have seen too many kids in our area who have an attitude that exudes arrogance and feelings of superiority. This crime seems to me to come from that spirit and not from ‘an understandable reaction to newness.’ From the accounts I have read, Ravi clearly wanted to humiliate Clementi and although I agree that he could never have foreseen the ultimate result he is guilty of a crime.
“To declare this ‘acting like teenagers’ trivializes the events and insults the other teenagers in the world who are trying to live their lives showing respect for other people.”
Another comment noted that the parents of the gay teen, who later committed suicide, “have been clear that they don’t seek a hugely punitive punishment. Yet, ultimately, Ravi will always be associated with anti-gay bullying as will the town where he went to school. It’s disgusting for everyone involved. He clearly broke the law and then covered up his crimes, as alleged, so he deserves jail time and will likely be deported to his native India. Bullying needs to stop and this incredibly sad case gives true momentum to ending it.”
But another was more sympathetic to Bybee’s position (and mine, as well): “I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments. You’ve spoken with reason and compassion, though sadly, politically incorrect for many.”