Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Herhold: Taking Life Beyond the Google Motto

Herhold: Taking life beyond the Google motto


By Scott Herhold

Mercury News

Posted: 02/08/2011


We are fond of proclaiming the protests in Tunisia and Egypt

as the Facebook or Twitter revolutions, as if technology

alone shaped the uprising.


Unquestionably, technology offered a means of revolt,

magnifying the way that a megaphone gathered crowds during

student uprisings of the 1960s.


What we forget, however, is that every uprising also demands

leaders willing to defy authority, to risk life and limb for

what they believe is right.


In that sense, the story of Wael Ghonim, the young Google

marketing executive who was released by Egyptian authorities

Monday, should inspire us all.


Ghonim was one of the first to use social networking tools to

fight the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Friends say he created a

Facebook page to protest the death of 28-year-old Khaled

Said, who was beaten to death in June by Egyptian police.


He also helped set up the Facebook page for Mohamed

ElBaradei, the Egyptian leader who has returned to lead the

opposition to Mubarak.


And on Jan. 25, as the revolt in Tahrir Square was gathering

steam, Ghonim sent out a Twitter message to his followers,

vowing that he would be there. He became a symbol of protest.


Three days later, he disappeared. And if you needed

verification for his importance to the current protests, it

was his detention by the police.


On Monday, the U.S. State Department announced that it had

gotten notice that Ghonim had been released. It ought to be a

moment for us Advertisement to reflect on what heroism is.


In my early 20s, my twin heroes were the singer Mick Jagger

and investigative reporter Seymour Hersh -- Jagger for his

finger-wagging insouciance, Hersh for his doggedness.


My icon worship said something about where I was in life --

defying law school or a staid career for journalism. (I've

learned that my heroes both have feet of clay, as do I.)


As I think about it now, it seems to me a real hero ought to

do three things: He or she should act at risk to themselves.

Their actions should benefit the common good. And they should

inspire the rest of us.


On all three counts, Ghonim fits. He knew Egypt was

dangerous: He had relocated to Dubai in early 2010 with wife

and children but continued to return often to his homeland.


It goes without saying that he did something for the common

good: For those who know history, there are parallels here

with the great Irish hero Wolfe Tone, who returned to his

native land and lost his life during Ireland's failed

uprising in 1798.


And inspiration, if you ever needed it, came from one of

Ghonim's last tweets: "Despite all the warnings I got from my

relatives and friends, I'll be there on #Jan 25," he wrote.


The Wall Street Journal asked Google whether Ghonim violated

the Mountain View-based company's policies. The Google

spokesman declined to comment, saying they'd have to talk to Ghonim.


It was the wrong answer. Here's what the Google person should

have said: "If Ghonim violated our policies, we'll deal with

it internally. We have an obligation to make money."


"But if you ask me whether he did something great, the answer

has to be yes. At Google, we stand in awe of his dedication

and courage in the cause of human dignity."


You see, the first rule in life isn't the famous Google

motto, "Don't be evil." It is to do something good. Ghonim,

who could have picked a safer way, understood that profoundly.


Contact Scott Herhold at or 408-275-0917.




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