Broken glasses theory

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Last week, I attended an event featuring three Democratic US Congressmen and one Democratic US Congresswoman. The event celebrated the launch of “Future Forum,” a way for Congress to connect with Millennials to work on issues that matter to young hard-working Americans. Amidst an assembly of New York tech entrepreneurs, the event, held at District CoWork (a co-working space), opened with a cocktail hour.

I signed in, popped on my name tag, headed straight to the bar, grabbed a glass of wine, and was shimmying over to a person I wanted to speak with when the unthinkable happened: My sleeve brushed against someone else’s wine glass, set atop a table , and SPLAT, the glass tumbled to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces.

Within seconds, a hundred faces turned to stare at me. I immediately started to clean up the mess I made. Then, I noticed a man helping me. He’d grabbed a plate and started to pick up large shards of glass with his bare hands. I noticed the man’s lapel pin, denoting him as a Congressman. This was Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Long Islander, who I’d never previously met.

What started off as us working together to expediently clean up the mess I made quickly turned into a conversation. He asked me about my work at Skillbridge, and I explained to him what we are trying to build. We ended up speaking for a while, and when the conversation concluded, he said to me, “Here’s my business card. Give me a call when you’re down in Washington.” Steve Israel’s act of humility — he didn’t have to help me clean anything up — may be why he is in Congress today.

This incident immediately jogged my memory back to a similar one from 2011: I was taken out to dinner by the CBS news crew who were covering Amanda Knox’s trial in Italy. Who saddles up next to me at the table? None other than Peter Van Sant, the news anchor and 48 Hours host. Peter’s an ace: he’s won four Emmy Awards, three Edward R. Murrow Awards, two Overseas Press Club Awards, and more.

A dozen people at our table split a couple of bottles of red wine. And then, after a toast, I put my glass back down on the table, directly on the spot where, under the tablecloth, two tables of unequal heights met. Boom! The red wine spilled all over Peter.

Yet Peter Van Sant faced the red wine with humility. Despite his deeply stained white shirt, he insisted it wasn’t a big deal at all. A precursor to my more recent incident with Congressman Israel, Peter and I ended up talking and laughing all night long.

The lesson is that broken glasses and spilled red wine can be the world’s best icebreakers — and they give larger than life people opportunities to show that they’re human too.

Practical note: An episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm taught me that, immediately applying club soda and salt to red wine will remove all stains.

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2 thoughts on “Broken glasses theory

  1. Cool story. It makes me have respect for the congressman. I already knew Peter was a cool guy, but it’s fantastic to learn that my impression of him was correct. Neat people without huge egos are attractive.

    One time, we got to go out to dinner with the (then) Vice Pres. of Disney Interactive. He was a very nice man. We were at dinner with a small group of people. Some of the women I had to kind of giggle at, simply because the different places in life we were made it a bit difficult for me to relate to.

    When Mr. McBeth (Disney guy) received his wine that evening, they gave him a chardonnay, and not the Cab he had ordered.. We were with a group of people who had high expectations and who felt very entitled, who treated the waiters and waitresses like they a bit less than human.

    It was a bit uncomfortable, because everyone stared at the poor waitress as if she had just totally screwed up and that she was losing her job. And yet his response was simply “That’s OK, I’ll go ahead and stick with this.”.

    And that told me everything about this man. True success entails an ability to remain humble no matter who you are and no matter how much money you’ll make.

    Thanks for the inspirational article, Stephen (with a ph).

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