“What (else) are you doing for others?”

31 Oct

Have you read Tim Cook’s open letter In Business Week? At the heart is a question MLK, Jr. posed, to which Cook responds:

Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to maintain a basic level of privacy. I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself. Apple is already one of the most closely watched companies in the world, and I like keeping the focus on our products and the incredible things our customers achieve with them.

At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” I often challenge myself with that question, and I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today.

For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

… I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.

… When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-10-30/tim-cook-im-proud-to-be-gay).

Cook’s reflection on what he has been doing and what he could be doing for others hits home for me. While arguably, many of us are already “doing for others,” we usually do what is comfortable, native, preferable for us. We do what we’re already inclined to do. This is perhaps obvious,  in many ways sensible and still good.

Yet what else could we be doing for others? What else that would require a stretch and growth on our part, in order to serve a real, persistent, significant need?

For me, the answer is fundraising. I don’t like asking for money. I don’t want to ask people for money. Even for a good cause. But I’m realizing that not developing that skillset is my “what else” I could be doing. Because there’s legitimate need for money that’s out there–that will go somewhere if it doesn’t go to the causes and organizations that are doing vital work.

So I’m throwing down here. I don’t have a plan yet, but I wanted to express my gratitude to Cook for holding up a mirror and encouraging me not to turn away from something I’ve seen there before and still see now: my potential. My brick.

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