Friday, October 7, 2011

What Matters

We mourn what is important to us.  We mourn what matters. 

Steve Jobs passed away this week.  And judging from the internet noise, and social media flurry; he mattered. And it's hard to claim that he didn't.  As an innovator, he changed technology and altered how we compute, communicate, and consume in ways we are only now realizing.  If not for Steve Jobs and I-Pods, I would still be rocking out to the Wallflowers on my Discman.  Instead, I rock out to the Wallflowers on my MP3 player.  No, it's not an I-Pod, but it's certainly a cousin or other distant relative.  My touch screen LG phone would not be the same had the I-Phone not come first.  And I'm sure that sometime down the road, a tablet computer is out there, waiting for me.  I myself don't own any Apple products, nor do I plan to.  I find their cost prohibitive in the sense that why would I pay so much for a cute, little apple icon when I can spend a lot less money, a few months later, on what I believe to be a higher quality, comparable item.  Plus, I really don't want to unlearn all my PC ways.

Yes, Steve Jobs mattered, and his passing is terribly sad.  So bright, so young.  The world is different without him.

But the world is also different without Wangari Maathai.  She passed away September 25, 2011, almost two weeks ago.  She was 71, she succumbed to ovarian cancer.  But that same internet/media noise that bugled the passing of Steve Jobs, was strangely silent for Wangari Maathai. And I saw nothing from my social media friends mourning her passing.  It's not a judgment.  I myself wouldn't have known had I not happened upon the story at the bottom of another online news item.  And at this point, I'm sure you're asking, "Why would I care about someone I don't think I've ever heard of (though I think her name does sound vaguely familiar)?"

Wangari Maathai was a scientist, professor, politician, and activist.  Her Green Belt Movement planted trees across Kenya, focused on environmental conservation, and worked to protect women's rights in a place where, let's face it, women's rights don't have an easy time of it.  She served several months in jail after being held in contempt of court during her divorce proceedings; a divorce from a man who claimed she was too strong-willed and couldn't be controlled.  And, oh yeah, she was the first and only African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (that same prize Barack Obama won, amidst so much controversy, his first year in office).  Incidently, she's also the last women to have done so- winning in 2004- but the next prize is awarded tomorrow...if some of the internet buzz is to be believed, Facebook wunderkind, Mark Zuckerberg is in the running.

And lest you think that Wangari Maathai was simply an "African phenomenon," off of our "Western" radar, I'll just point out that she was also a New York Times bestselling author, with her memoir Unbowed, (available at Third Place Books..SHOUT OUT!), undoubtedly read by countless book groups across the United States; as well as being the inspiration of numerous, English-language,  children's books. 

So...what am I getting at?  First world, gadget innovation, versus "all world," life-long, struggles?  Technological consumerism, versus human rights crusading?  Land fills overflowing with last year's cutting-edge, out-dated invention, versus Kenyan valleys thriving with, new, verdant life?  No matter how I feel, one person isn't better than the other.  Wangari didn't live a better, more world-altering life than Steve... and vice versa.  All I can say is, I felt a strange "ickiness" with all the Steve Jobs love and the marked absence of Wanagari Maathai props.  It's okay for Steve Jobs to matter.  But I think we may need to reevaluate our priorities when one life matters SO MUCH and the other is barely a footnote in the next day's obituaries; virtually non-existent.

Mourn for what matters, but don't forget to recognize and mourn for what really matters.