My father passed away in July. I gratefully accept all gestures of condolences, but please know that he was well on his way to 104 years old, lived a wonderful life, and never suffered.
His forgetfulness was an object of affection and every year at Passover, he would proffer the same story, as if he were telling it for the first time. We would gather around the Seder table and he would pull out a wrinkled and torn excerpt from heaven knows where. We would lean forward with anticipation, feigning interest at first, later cherishing this tradition of the story we were hearing for the first time, year after year after year.
The story is from Isidor Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics and a colleague of my father (and a character in Oppenheimer — both Rabi and my father worked on the Manhattan Project). Rabi was asked why he became a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in his neighborhood. His answer served as an inspiration for my father, for our family, and in my desire to pass on this wonderful tradition, I hope for you.
“My mother made me a scientist without intending to,” Rabi said. “Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, ‘So, did you learn anything today?’ Not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference, asking good questions, made me become a scientist.”
Is there a person on this planet who would not benefit from taking to heart this simple piece of wisdom? Oh, how our politicians could better serve us were they to heed it! And for those who create presentations and seek to communicate better in public? Pure gold.
We come together here at the Presentation Summit to learn from one another, and between those who speak before audiences and those who sit in them, the learning takes place in both directions. What a lovely mantra for us all to adopt this year: let us ask good questions. Let us foster deeper levels of discovery with our curiosity. Let us value the question as much as we do the answer.
As I think about how best to honor my father’s memory, few ideas resonate more than this oh-so-simple one. Let’s ask good questions, shall we?