How easily we turn people into messiahs. Steve Jobs was an innovative genius who professed Buddhism yet pursued a relentlessly material career, creating such a fanatical culture in quest of excellence that many Apple employees were estranged from their families. Here’s what he once said: “You’d be surprised how hard people work around here. They work nights and weekends, sometimes not seeing their families for a while. Sometimes people work through Christmas to make sure the tooling is just right at some factory in some corner of the world so our product comes out the best it can be.” Buddhism doesn’t mean walking around barefoot (as Jobs reportedly did), anymore than Yoga means doing a few exercises to stay healthy. Both of them are profoundly spiritual ways of living, characterized by a ceaseless struggle to find a way to radiate inner peace into the world. CEOs by definition live in a cutthroat world of competition, lawsuits, and petty maneuverings. Jobs was no exception; Apple shrouded itself in mystery, prevarication, misinformation about impending products, even some shady business practices.
For all his unquestioned business savvy and cutting edge technological advances, this is a man who carried a lifelong grudge against the birth father who abandoned him and didn’t acknowledge his own daughter! Refusing to face an unwanted pregnancy is NOT just a “youthful indiscretion,” as it has been described; it is an egregious breach of honor! People who criticized the company were punished and some employees were afraid to run into him. Of course he should get credit for the millions of applications (including medical and charitable programs) stemming from his inventions; undoubtedly, he was a brilliant engineer; yes, he was among the vanguard that reduced the size of the world; but to hail him as a messiah is foolish, particularly when some have described him as a tyrant! And his abrogation of Apple’s philanthropic programs together with his own stated rejection of philanthropy to “make the world a better place by making better products,” leaves more questions than answers.
Several articles state that he made the world a better place. Really? Better than what? Better how? I look around me and I see a shambolic mess–fractured international relations, wars and skirmishes, students who can text at the speed of sound but can’t spell and haven’t read a single book of note; smartphones that have ironically destroyed the art of meaningful conversations; sterile ways of “keeping in touch;” bloggers (like me, I will admit) with opinions that are cheaper by the dozen; a digital age that permitted facile high-speed financial transactions that at least in part led to our economic meltdown. Easy and fast doesn’t always mean better!
Perhaps it’s appropriate to see Steve Jobs as a brilliant digital engineer and innovator, like so many others–some equally celebrated, some less. But a Buddhist in the true sense he didn’t appear to be; nor was he a messiah, however reclusive he might have been! And are we better off in the long run for all our technological progress? I guess the jury will return its verdict next century!