A speech to the living man – on what he can learn from men who died during 2011

Dinner speech delivered in Stockholm, end of December 2011. Gentlemen, husbands, brothers, we’re no longer boys. We’ve left adolescence and our youth behind. We’re no longer expected to be good looking but good hearted. Not witty, but wise. Not fun, but fair. We've discovered a few hairs in our ears, have found that we don’t have to yell to be heard and have accumulated enough knowledge not having to listen in on everyone.

According to official data, the average life expectancy for Swedish men is now 78 years and 215 days. We’ve reach the half way point and is now on top of our careers. The uphill struggles we had since our births are turned into downhill strolls towards death.

We’re old enough to have experience how fragile life can be. People we love have stopped loving each other.  They have been close to be run over by a bus, they had stroke on an ordinary Wednesday morning and discovered that their sight isn’t what is used to be. They had a miscarriage, got swept away forever by the tsunami, got diagnosed with cancer, and been informed that their kids have a rare medical syndrome. The times of cheering at weddings are behind us and we have already paid our respects at a few funerals.

But our curiosity is still intact. In our hearts we know that the purpose of life is to die as young as possible, as old as possible. We still haven’t read anything by Mark Twain but we love his quote, which we found online: Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like its heaven on earth.

What more can we learn from dead men? During 2011, we learned of the death of a doctor, a dreamer and a dictator and from the legacies, we could learn new things on how to live our lives like modern men. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il, the innovator Steve Jobs and Nobel laureate Ralph Steinman. Let me tell you about them in reversed chronological order and start with the man who died most recently.

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When the dictator Kim Jong Il died on the 17th of December, he had reportedly been married a couple of times and produced at least five children. As one of the most cold hearted dictators we know of, he was probably no dream to be married to either, and that is something we can learn from. Few things damage a relation as much as when you bring work home and when you fail to let communication flow freely.

Our parents, children of the 1940s like Kim Jong Il, grew up with fathers acting as dictators around the house and that shaped their view of parenthood. Most of us can count on the fingers on one hand the times we’ve seen our dads display vulnerability or even cry. The contrary can be said on our mothers’ frequent outbursts of emotion.

If a father applies the same kind of thinking at home as Kim Jong Il did and demand unconditional love while prohibiting communication in the homeland that is his family, things are destined to go wring. One can imagine the amount of courage needed by any of the wives of late Kim Jong Il to question the division of workload at home or the way he talked to their children, at the same time as the dictators propaganda informed her that dual rainbows were visible on a clear blue sky the day he was born or that Kim Jong Il hit five hole-in-ones on the first time he set foot on a golf course.

Gentlemen, let us learn from Kim Jong Il that avoiding communication isn’t a great idea in any relation in any country. Let’s talk more about how we feel. Lets share our thoughts on when we are vulnerable with each other, our partners and our childeren.

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When Steve Jobs died on the 5th of October, there was one detail he had devoted much of his life to – eliminating visible seams. His legacy is that most of Apple products and services lack those joints that reveal how they were assembled and discloses individual parts. An iPad simply looks like it has grown into that shape, the same way an apple would. Anyone renting a movie on iTunes needn’t worry about how to transfer it onto another device as it’s done seamlessly. It’s just works.

Getting a relation to work is like designing an iPad. A thousand little pieces needs to work together and create a sum better than its parts. Much like we dedicate ourselves getting the everyday life puzzle to work, so did Steve Jobs and his design partner Jonathan Ivy, spending long hours making products as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. Even if you can’t tell from the outside, the result is felt as soon as you interact. As the rest of the computer industry focused on developing technology or curating content, Jobs genius lay in his ability to make the relation between the two, work.

Gentlemen, lets learn from Steve Jobs and understand that the key to a happy relation is to do away with seams, little things that create friction in our everyday lives. Do weekend grocery shopping online and have it delivered to your door, have no guilt ordering take-away yet another evening, have someone else do the cleaning and trust that Korean guy on the corner to clean you shirts. Getting another relation is never the solution, only a way of procrastinating that everyday life and all its routines further into the future. And by the way, in that future, your everyday life puzzle will have gotten more complicated involving more parts and partners.

So strong was Jobs desire to create a seamless experience that he went to great lengths discouraging everyone wishing to be connect a thing on the side. The same logic applies to a relation. Once you’ve found someone compatible, perfect to be the motherboard to your future kids, never try to add an accessory on the side. New models of different makes might look great at first but their communication ability is sub-par and they never work alongside what you’re already having.

Our partners are like iPad. We were drawn to their stunning appearance and as soon as we started using our fingers to touching them, we felt how they loved us back. They didn’t come with a manual but we learn to handle them by exchanging tricks with each other. And deep in our hearts we know what we won’t admit in public, that they are able to deliver the answers to every question we might have. And just like iPads they sometimes get into sleep mode and might need to get some extra energy by being close the human charge dock that is we.

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When doctor Ralph Steinman passed away on the 30th of September he had lived with the knowledge that he had been nominated to be awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for several years. When he finally got it, it was to late. When he first presented his theories on the dendritic cell, fellow scientists refused to acknowledge the discovery and assumed that Steinman had made a mistake.

But over the years that followed, he presented more research that supported his theory that dendritic cell indeed existed and is vital to the body’s immune system. Simply put, the dendticic cells are equipped with a memory that allows them to remember earlier infections which makes it possible to use their knowledge to amplify the effect of vaccine.

Gentlemen, lets learn from Ralph Steinman and like dendritic cells put a value on the memories we have accumulated. Many of us are aware of how parents that divorced suddenly find that they have also parted with half of the memory bank. By putting a value to and honoring the memories we created as we have stressed our relations, it will be easier for us to withstand future tests of those relations as well as to amplify any vaccine we might deploy.

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Gentlemen, The dictator, the dreamer and the doctor all died during 2011. Let us live 2012 enriched by what we can learn from the legacies of Kim Jong Il, Steve Jobs and Ralph Steinman. By communicating more, not less, strive for a seamless everyday life and acknowledge that putting a value to memories is the best vaccine to get a lasting relation.

EnglishPer Grankvist