May 14th, 2008

That Fighting Spirit

I usually can’t stomach rubber chicken dinners, but if they were all like the event I went to on last Sunday night, I wouldn’t mind so much.

That night, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (AKA, NJPAC), the freshman class for the New Jersey Hall of Fame was inducted — those honored included Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Malcolm Forbes, Frank Sinatra Toni Morrison, Yogi Berra, Buzz Aldrin, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., Bruce Springsteen and our own Robert Wood Johnson.

Now I’ve lived in NJ for about 13 years (still can’t believe it’s been that long!) and have never considered myself a New Jerseyan. In fact, when we first moved here, my wife came across a New Jersey-based radio station that defines the state by what it is NOT — to this day the announce will scream that this is “Not New York, Not Philadelphia… Proud to be New Jersey” — a phrase that still sets us both off laughing hysterically.

But during his acceptance remarks, Bruce Springsteen not only showed why he is considered a creative genius — he also captured the genius of the Garden State. Bemoaning how NJ is perennially the butt of jokes and “never gets any respect,” Bruce explained:

But fear not. This is not our curse. It is our blessing. For this is what imbues us with our fighting spirit. That we may salute the world forever with the Jersey state bird, and that the fumes from our great northern industrial area to the ocean breezes of Cape May fill us with the raw hunger, the naked ambition and the desire not just to do our best, but to stick it in your face. Theory of relativity anybody? How about some electric light with your day? Or maybe a spin to the moon and back? And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know, when the announcer says “and now in this corner, from New Jersey….” they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we’re coming out swinging.

Perhaps it is this fighting spirit, coupled with the quest to stand up and be recognized by doing something different that has lead so many New Jerseyans to rebel against the status quo and accomplish the remarkable. Certainly that seemed to be one theme that tied most of the award winners together. Indeed, asMargaret points out in her post about the event, many of General Johnson’s ideas:

went squarely across the grain, such as his thoughts about the ethical responsibilities of business, or his repeated calls during the Great Depression for higher wages for workers. In the 1930s, in a pamphlet called “Try Reality,” he wrote: “…industry only has the right to succeed where it performs a real economic service and is a true social asset.”

I like this notion. And perhaps this is one of the reasons why New Jersey remains one of the top medical R&D centers in the world. Certainly marching to a different drum is one key to discovery, but it also requires perseverance and the will to fight on. Or as Edison was famous for saying, “genius is one percent inspiration, and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

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