Sunday, January 24, 2010
Conan: A Lesson in Kindness
After all the drama, the forced angst, and the blind stupidity of choosing sides, Conan O’Brien’s last time hosting the Tonight Show on NBC uneventfully aired last Friday.
Full of tepid, awkward, and surreal irrelevant moments, (Neil Young as your last musical guest? Really? And Will Ferrell is getting close to becoming the comedic house guest who has outstayed his welcome), Conan actually gave a heartfelt and emotional “thank you” for the outpouring of creative and raucously loud support for him to continue to host the Tonight Show.
But it was in the middle of his farewell show that O’Brien delivered the most poignant and brilliant piece of advice I’ve ever heard from someone whose job it was to take shots, make fun of and laugh at other people’s expense. If you missed it, here’s his effulgent quote: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought there were going to get, but if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen…” He then went on to speak about his hate of cynicism, saying it’s the worst trait someone can possess.
Now I think a certain amount of cynicism isn’t a bad thing, but Conan is dead-on correct about being kind in your daily life.
Conan wasn’t taking jabs, wasn’t sticking it one more time to NBC pinhead Jeff Zucker, or even the golden boy, Jay Leno. He was speaking from the heart and I wish he had spoken more to this than making bad jokes about stealing office supplies and sticking NBC with the bill.
Being kind is something I’ve had to learn as an adult. Not because it wasn’t ingrained in my from my family; my mother made me volunteer at a nursing home when I was a kid instead of sitting at home all summer long. But between leaving college and being enveloped by the real world, those lessons are overshadowed and often counter-intuitive to becoming successful.
I am not making excuses, but when I saw successful people, I saw people who were ruthless, cunning and diabolical not only getting ahead, but being wildly successful. They were titans of industry, heads of state, made of Teflon, and having veins of ice water.
People like that are called sharks, cutthroat, corporate raiders, and rouges. In the broadcasting industry, they are called geniuses, talent with a capital “T,” divas and more importantly, they commanded a lot of money and are feared. Back in the late ‘80’s, I would listen to Glenn Beck when he was a morning DJ and still a raging alcoholic. One of the more infamous stories of his tenure in Charm City was when he fired someone for handing him the wrong kind of pen. It wasn’t long after that incident where Beck found himself without a job, without friends, and hitting rock bottom.
People like Glenn (who has done an amazing job in rescuing his life and career and is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met) and others who have faded into radio infamy or white-knuckling their jobs, were whom I aspired to be like (without the drug and alcohol addiction). But what I didn’t know or understand was that for all their outward success, they were also the first to be let go when ratings went down and miserable people.
Realizing that being kind is not a show of weakness, but actually a source of strength and maturity was a real awakening for me. Like Conan pointed out: nothing is guaranteed, but along the way kindness is invaluable in managing the vicissitudes and vagaries of life. Call it karma or the Golden Rule but so much opportunity has come my way after I decided to be kind and give back in my own life.
Remember the cliché, “Kill ‘em with kindness?” That’s exactly what Conan did.