Lessons from my Brother on "Rarified Air"

My brother was one of a kind.   Brilliant and funny, he had a meteoric rise as an entertainment lawyer whose clients included many successful artists and celebrities. One day, he called me from a meeting he was in, with an assortment of Reggae stars, including Bob and Rita Marley. As I picked up the phone he started coughing, "Are you sick?” I asked with concern. He laughed. “No, there was so much ganja being passed, I couldn’t breath anymore—he started to laugh.  "In fact I couldn't see another face though the smoke. “ I laughed too and began to GUSH about Bob Marley and Bob Seger and how cool it must be for my brother to work with artists like them.

He sort of half-listened to my idolizing for a bit, than interrupted me, “Mike --celebrities, CEO's are people—just like you and I. They have to buy underwear, pay bills and put on a pair of pants one leg at a time.”   At that time, I was still in High school and frankly part of that lesson slid off me like the baby oil and iodine we use to apply on our bodies in the hot summer sun. Thank God, I grew up. (And stopped using baby oil to tan!)

Despite my brother’s early and untimely death, I am forever grateful for these lessons that became invaluable to me as my career took me to Hollywood and eventually to Silicon Valley.  Celebrities, CEO's and entitlement are a big part of both of these communities.

So I thought I would share my reflections on the lesson he taught me: How to treat others; rich or poor, white, black, young and old.    

I learned friendships are not just about what current job someone has and how they can help you. Friendship is also not about counting the number of times you have helped people-if it doesn't come from your heart...don't do it.  Certainly don't count!

Personal behavior matters.  Whether you a worth a billion dollars or can't retire until you are 90.   Whether you live humbly or live in a mansion, never take a vacation or choose to travel the world, whether you were lucky, smart, inherited wealth, worked for it, or count every penny in your paycheck to make ends meet. No matter what your financial situation is, Personal behavior matters.   

Some people believe that money and power entitle you to breathe different air. Sometimes I think that breathing less oxygen-enriched air is WHAT brings out the narcissist, rude behavior in some.    Being famous or wealthy—neither of these allow you a get out of jail free card for being rude or obnoxious.    So don't do it! People will tell stories of you being obnoxious for years.

A few years back a new neighbor and a very high profile lawyer decided he did not like the unique style of a particular teacher in our local school. This was a beloved teacher in our community, who always put his heart and soul into teaching and loving our kids. The idea, that this person should decide what was right for the community based on his experiences is the type of rarified air behavior that I am talking about.  Arrogant, patriarchal. Because you have an opinion, does not mean it is shared.  (The good news is that our community rallied behind the teacher.)

Another example was a billionaire who came to Palo Alto looking for some office space.   Turns out the only place he felt “suited his needs” was already occupied by long time tenants  He first offered to buy the building, the owner said no. He than asked the owner what the current tenant was paying and he offered to double it.   Never thinking for a moment about the unintended consequences of his behavior. (The current tenants being ousted and how the rent increase might affect other tenants in the community.)  Some might call this "Business", I call this the rarified air syndrome.   Never mind what you model to your children.

It doesn’t have to be large gestures or egregious behavior…it can be as simple as believing you don’t need to wait in a line, or in your frustration--you shout at the United representative that you are a million miler and you couldn’t possibly fly coach.   Coach is not a disease, by the way.   : )  

And...Do you really think we all need to hear your conversation?

The point I am making and the lesson my brother gave me was this- --Ultimately who you are and how you behave is so much more critical than what you have.  

“The Dali Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said:  Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.   Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health.   And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present: the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The human Condition.  Rarified Air. We all behave poorly at one time or another. The good news is that a little time in the mirror can help us to recalibrate.

The bad news is that breathing from a higher elevation, does not preventanyone from the tragedies that befall all human beings.  Sadly.

At 11,000 feet you may still be able to look down at the masses, but to take those pants off, you still need to remove them, one leg at a time.