He changed the world and revolutionized technology. He could also be biting and cruel.
We’re an creative country. In almost 250 years of history, Jobs is definitely near the top of the list of our greatest innovators.
Heck, I’m writing this on a MacBook. Chances are you’re reading it on an iPhone.
But he also tore people down when he thought they were in his way, or when they simply annoyed him. He was “vicious to his daughter and those around her,” and ultimately “shifted from neglectful to controlling.”
That quote comes from a New York Times review of Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s book about her relationship with her father, Small Fry, which will be released on Sept. 4.
A few weeks ago, Brennan-Jobs excerpted it for Vanity Fair. She led off with a vignette near the end of her father’s life, when he was literally on his deathbed, and he told her as she was leaving after a visit: “You smell like a toilet.”
I wrote about this at the time. And now we learn tht Brennan-Jobs apparently was troubled by the reaction that people like me had to her story. She seems surprised, or at least disappointed, that the pendulum is swinging away from “Jobs the Genius” toward “Jobs the Jerk.”
As the Nellie Bowles writes in the Times:
On the eve of publication, what Ms. Brennan-Jobs wants readers to know is this: Steve Jobs rejected his daughter for years, but that daughter has absolved him. Triumphantly, she loves him, and she wants the book’s scenes of their roller skating and laughing together to be as viral as the scenes of him telling her she will inherit nothing.
Ms. Brennan-Jobs’s forgiveness is one thing. What’s tricky is that she wants the reader to forgive Mr. Jobs, too. And she knows that could be a problem.
Actually no, I don’t think it’s a problem. But only because it’s not necessary.
I don’t want to dive into the complexities of the relationship between Jobs and Brennan-Jobs. The short version, that most of us know, is that he denied being her father for years, until DNA proved it, and treated her cruelly for a long time. They ultimately reconciled, at least in her telling and by her definition.
But, let’s step back. We recoil when we hear these stories about Jobs’s unflattering side precisely because our society builds people like him up so high to begin with.
We react with awe when we hear the stories of how Jobs cajoled teams to overcome massive design and engineering problems, and to create some of the most innovative American products in history.
Then we react with disdain when we hear how bitter and disdainful he could be.
A relatively mild example: When he reportedly interviewed a potential vice-president of human resources and told her, “I’ve never met one of you who didn’t suck. I’ve never known an HR person who had anything but a mediocre mentality.”
How are we supposed to reconcile someone who created so much, but who could act so cruelly?
Here’s an easy answer: We don’t have to. We don’t need to forgive Steve Jobs; he didn’t do anything to most of us to require forgiveness.
We just need to accept that when we build these so-called icons of entrepreneurship so high, and the ultimately disappoint us, it’s not really their fault. It’s ours.