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Steve Jobs and Dr. King

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Two names loom large in today’s news. Two names that ordinarily we wouldn’t think about together.

But, in the great struggle now unfolding before us for our nation’s future, it seems to me these two quintessential Americans are worth thinking about in light of each other.

One is Steve Jobs.

The other is Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jobs, of course, is in the headlines because of his decision to step down and retire from Apple, the company he co-founded, from which he later got fired, and to which he subsequently returned and resurrected.

Dr. King is in the news because of the opening of the King monument in Washington, DC.

Other than being in the news at the same time, why might we think of these two very different Americans together?

I think they are icons of two essential but different and opposing aspects of American life. One is the individual and the other is our social reality.

It’s these two aspects of American life, the dignity and potential of individuals living free, and the social reality, the rules by which we all agree to live and to which we all submit, that has always caused tension in American life. And this tension is becoming particularly acute today.

Jobs is, of course, the essence of what so many see what America is about. The rugged, free and creative individual. The intrepid entrepreneur.

His success story is a story of bucking the establishment and being his own man. As a college dropout, he and his colleague Steve Wozniak, with whom he started Apple, brought new technology to the American people that not only revolutionized our lives, but caused the corporate giant that supposedly controlled the computer business, IBM, to change itself.

King, on the other hand, is about America’s social reality. What are the rules we live by and what are the contours of the field of life on which rugged American individualists share and live their lives?

The American focus on the individual sometimes causes us to lose focus that man is a social creature as well as an individual. No man, in those famous words, is an island.

When 20 year old Steve Jobs labored in his garage, building the personal computer, he was building a product to serve others. And those whose lives he made so much better as result of his labor and creativity compensated him and made him a wealthy man.

As critical as it is for the individual human spirit to be free to create, that individual agrees to live with others by rules in a society that hopefully permits this to happen.

American history has been about the ongoing challenge of refining our understanding and acceptance of the eternal truths that enable men and women to live together freely and creatively.

Dr. King played a critical role in moving this nation along in this process. He helped the nation understand that these truths remained blurred if some, for bigoted reasons, could not participate and contribute. All suffer for the omission of even a few.

King pushed the nation to turn its eyes to the heavens so that truth might be perceived more clearly and, as result, our freedom enhanced.

This is our struggle in 2011. How do we understand the truths, the rules, by which we live better so that our social reality – our laws and our government – enhances rather than stifles our freedom and creativity?

And so we should also note that Steve Jobs was born to a college student, an unwed mother, who put him up for adoption. It was 1955, eighteen years before Roe v Wade.

Let’s us be thankful this young woman brought her child into the world. Where would we be today if not?

We still have many rules to fix.

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