David and Robin Sackman, longtime congregants at Congregation Or Ami, recently returned from Israel on a trip organized by CEO.org, a graduate organization of YPO, Young Presidents Organization. On the transatlantic flight home, David, a CEO and serial entrepreneur, emailed me these reflections:
It’s the middle of the night (October 29) and I’m flying back from two weeks in Israel, which began as a vacation (actually a favor to a friend who was so disappointed when we first told them that we were not going to join them on this vacation) and ended as one of the best two weeks of learning in my life. My goal in this note is to share with you some of what I learned, so that you may get some benefit from this experience too. This note is not about Israel, the Middle East, or politics; it is about life.
As context, we had tremendous access being taken around by very well-connected people and protected by reservists in the most elite Special Ops units of Israel. We travelled throughout Israel, Palestinian territories (within one mile of Hamas BTW), and along the fence of the Syria/Israel border (with four bombs going off within a half-mile of us). Our resources included top academics, top journalists, top politicians, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) including several Generals and top Intelligence officers, Palestinian business leaders, and the people of Israel and Palestine themselves.
We learned about the Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspective. We walked in Jesus’ steps in Nazareth and Gallilee. We went to the first known synagogue. We went to Moslem mosques. We had a private mass in Gallilee and a Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. We learned about the Israeli and Arab perspective, and the Israeli and Palestinian perspective. We had dinner with the elite and slept in Bedouin tents with settlers from the West Bank. We had dinner with about 20 Palestinian leaders in Ramallah. We were trained in anti-terrorism by the IDF, and danced in ancient caves. We heard directly from one of the prosecutors of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichman.
Life Lessons from Shimon Peres
Being in a hotbed of conflict for two weeks, learning about the situation from all perspectives (and being able to have empathy and understanding for each perspective BTW) offered the opportunity for an awakening of sorts. But what meant most of all to me was an hour or so that we spent with Shimon Peres, the 90+ year old former Prime Minister of Israel who is truly an extraordinary man. It is the lessons that I learned from him that I want to share with you:
- You don’t need to speak loudly to be heard. This is the second time in my life that I have had this kind of experience. Shimi P as we came to call him is a small, quiet, soft spoken man. But the ideas that he presented were so powerful that we all were riveted to our seats and strained to hear every word that he had to say. The key is to say important things. If you do, people will listen. If they’re not listening, maybe you’re not saying important things … or not saying them in a way that people can understand and connect to.
- You don’t need to be boastful for people to realize what you can offer. Do great things and present great ideas. People will realize that you deserve high regard and to be followed.
- In a modern democracy, every person has 1) the right to be equal and 2) the right to be different. This should be true in a company, as well as a country or the world. Let’s make sure that we give our fellow co-workers these rights, and let’s each live up to our obligation to use these rights to be highly productive members of our society/company. Tenure and seniority isn’t what makes the idea great. The idea is what makes the idea great, and great ideas can come from anyone.
- Peres talked about the role of science and technology; he is probably the hippest, most tech oriented 93 year old I’ve ever met. He pointed out how, with science and technology, for first time in history, you can become great without making someone small (unlike war). Science doesn’t have borders or nationalities. He also said: “Become great not by making anyone small. Animosity is the most expensive thing in life. Make friends, not enemies.” In my career long attempt to minimize politics in organizations in which I’ve led, I’ve tried to point out that you don’t need to make someone else small for you to be big. In fact, you can lift them up while still being everything that you can be. We don’t need to get what we want at someone else’s expense. Rarely is it a zero sum game. And often, that other person can help you accomplish what you’re trying to accomplish. Make friends. Lift others up. You’ll find it lifts you up too.
- “You must dream, imagine, dare.” If nothing else, please take this lesson to heart. Don’t settle. Strive. Be great at whatever you do. Constantly dream about what could be … and then dare to go after it. It’s ok if you fail … on this attempt. Try again. Part of what makes great people great is that they are willing to fail in the process of achieving what they’re trying to achieve. Early failures are just part of the learning process; they’re nothing to feel bad about. He went on to say: “My biggest mistake was to dream too small. Make bigger dreams. Make great dreams.”
- Don’t dwell on the past. “The great thing in life is to depart from the past. The past doesn’t have a future. The greater you dare, the better you do.”
- Be happy and optimistic. “I have the right to be happy … to be hopeful.” Happiness and optimism propel people to do great things.
I have no false belief that I can communicate the power and inspiration behind these ideas. But hopefully you can get some sense of each idea. If you want to get some sense of this man and his humility, including his ability to make fun of himself, Google “Shimon Peres What are you going to do next?”
In sum …Be humble.Say important things.Dream big … no! … bigger.Lift up those around you.Don’t be afraid to fail.Be happy and optimistic.I wish you all great personal success and I wish us all great success in what we’re trying to accomplish together.
More wisdom from David Sackman (delivered at Yom Kippur Services)