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June 18th, 2008
01:23 PM ET

What does the death of Tim Russert teach us?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/18/art.vert.timrussert.jpg width=292 height=320]

Bruce Weinstein
The Ethics Guy, BusinessWeek

The death of Tim Russert touched me deeply. I never knew him personally, but like many of those who watched him regularly, I felt as though I did.

I was particularly moved by the outpouring of love and affection from journalists. The emotional highlight was the roundtable discussion that Tom Brokaw led on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” I’m glad that Brokaw broke his own “no weeping” rule toward the end of the program, when he choked up as he recalled the bond he shared with Russert; Mike Barnicle came close to doing the same shortly afterward. It’s been a long time since journalists allowed their feelings to come through so boldly, and rightly so.

Amidst the swirl of memories and emotions, I wondered if the panelists ever told Russert while he was alive how much he meant to them. If not, they wouldn’t be alone. After all, when are we most likely to tell someone that we care deeply about him or her? At that person’s funeral! How much good does that do for the departed? Not a lot.

Funerals are for the living, and of course it’s important for the bereaved to comfort one another. But there is also a lot to be said for telling someone that he or she matters to us while that person is alive and able to appreciate it.

In a BusinessWeek.com column last summer, I explained why expressing our gratitude is a matter of ethics, not etiquette. I proposed making a list of the people to whom we are grateful, and then thanking each of them sooner rather than later.

Imagine how much good we’d be doing for others (and ourselves) if we did this. It’s a tall order, though, so given how busy we all are, I encourage you to do the following:

As soon as you finish reading this blog, write an email, pick up the phone, or go up to someone you care about, and let that person know how much he or she means to you. It’s not necessary to go on at great length; you can make a big difference even with something as simple as, “I just want you to know that I value our relationship.”

Why wait another minute?

Editor's Note: Dr. Weinstein will be appearing regularly on American Morning starting this Friday. For more about the author, visit TheEthicsGuy.com


Filed under: 360° Radar • Bruce Weinstein • Ethics
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Julie San Diego, CA

    My deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Russert. What a tremendous shock for his family.

    Excellent discussion on heart disease.

    One thing that wasn't adequately discussed was the role stress and lack of restorative sleep plays as a risk factor for heart attacks.

    Genetics and cholesterol are often painted as primary culprits. We’re told that there’s “bad” cholesterol and “good” cholesterol and that we have to consume foods lower in cholesterol so that we don’t take in too much “bad” cholesterol.

    I got “the speech” from a well-meaning doctor, telling me I needed to take cholesterol-lowering medication and that I should severely restrict my diet because my “bad” cholesterol was too high. I was in my early 20’s and physically fit.

    I threw out the prescription. I’m glad I did.

    Some time later, a better informed doctor explained to me that the human body actually produces cholesterol in addition to the cholesterol taken in from food. This means that you can eat a very low cholesterol diet and still have high cholesterol if your body is producing it. Cholesterol production by the body appears to be linked to inflammation, which can be produced by infections, food allergies, and stress.

    Certain ethnicities have been observed to have high “bad” cholesterol, regardless of diet, and yet have the same, or lower levels of heart disease than the general population as a whole.

    It’s complex and not completely understood by medical science. We can market a pill that lowers the symptom (cholesterol), but we can’t market a pill that gives us purpose and meaning in life, lowers our stress, ensures a good night of sleep, and makes us feel calm about our jobs and interpersonal relationships – all factors that probably do quite a bit towards lowering the risk of heart disease.

    I belong to one of those ethnic groups (northeastern European ancestry) that is “blessed” with astronomically high cholesterol. I refuse to take the cholesterol lowering medicine (read the fine print…), or any medicine for that matter. If I’m lucky, I won’t live to be nearly a hundred, like many of my ancestors – all of whom had high cholesterol.

    Interestingly, when I found I had a food intolerance to wheat and removed it from my diet, my cholesterol dropped about 50 points. Without medicine.

    There’s a lot we don’t know. Medicine has its place, but a pill isn’t always the answer.

    I’d love to hear Sanjay reporting on the subject.

    June 19, 2008 at 2:18 am |
  2. Crystal

    Tim Russert was known for being straight shooter and for asking the tough questioned that other reports would not ask. He will be missed.

    June 19, 2008 at 12:12 am |
  3. Greg

    In this world of left and right slants in the media, Tim Russert was alway someone I could trust to report the truth and find the answers to questions I found to be important. He will be missed.

    June 18, 2008 at 9:57 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    We tend to think of success as success in our career but I think Tim showed us that true success doesn't include just work but the relationships you build with other people – your family, your co-workers, you friends and telling them that he loved them was a daily occurrence from what I read. He told his son every day that he loved him – I heard Luke say in an interview that it wasn't just every day but every time he talked to his Dad which was several times a day. In his own way I think Tim showed us the way we should live to have a full and happy life.

    Annie Kate
    Birminigham AL

    June 18, 2008 at 8:51 pm |
  5. Jan from Wood Dale, IL

    To work hard. To love and enjoy those you cherish the most. And to laugh. Not necessarily in that order.

    June 18, 2008 at 8:18 pm |
  6. Bryan

    Success, money and fame doesn't over rule good health.

    June 18, 2008 at 7:55 pm |
  7. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Oh my God, the love Tim Russert had for his son I think was the greatest love of all that his son will never forget they shared. This is the kind of relationship every child deserves. I'm sure his son will follow in his footsteps of success.

    June 18, 2008 at 7:53 pm |
  8. Mari, Salt Lake City

    At our house every Sunday morning we would watch or record Tim's show. He was fair, intelligent, funny, insightful. He made us think about the issues.

    He was a rare journalist! He was not spewing division, angst, nor partisanship. He was....... fair.

    We always liked Tim Russert, and when he passed and we listened to all his friends talk about him, we knew that what we suspected was true. Tim was indeed, a kind, loving, fun and brilliant man!

    We also loved, that he like us, was a Catholic, brought up in Catholic schools, taught by nuns and grew up to care deeply for peace and justice issues.

    God bless you, Maureen & Luke Russert. Rest in peace, Tim!

    June 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm |
  9. teresa

    Live better
    It's not what you have done.
    It's not what you plan to do.
    It is what you do.

    June 18, 2008 at 6:44 pm |
  10. Lee in CA

    Dr. Weinstein: while the tiny cynic in me bristles at the thought of such sentimentality, I'm (slightly) breaking down that wall to say thank you for the reminder. In such a harsh, judgmental world in which we live – we simply don't make the effort to let those we care about – know that we care – and say it often – and without reservation – before it's too late!

    June 18, 2008 at 6:24 pm |
  11. EJ (USA)

    Election night this year is going to be so sad without Tim Russert. I would take off the day after election day so I could stay up and watch all of the results and analysis come in. I'll do the same thing this year – especially with how historic this race is – but Tim's loss will not go unnoticed.

    He won't be here to ponder what Obama's win will mean for this country. 😉 That is what I was waiting for. I could feel that he was waiting for that moment. When he was finally able to announce the Democratic primary win-presumptive nominee, he was soaking in the history of it all. Regardless of who one was rooting for it was nice to see that importance appreciated. You could see it all over his face.

    June 18, 2008 at 6:09 pm |
  12. Francesca Elm

    What I was impressed by and what I've taken away from it, is what a great friend Tim Russert was. It sounds like anytime a colleague of his had a baby or had a family member who was having health problems he would call them or write them a letter and support them through the process. I always say him as a wonderful journalist, but I had no idea how loving he was to those around him, how selfless he was, and always made those around him feel important.
    The outpour of love, and all the tears from all his respected colleagues show how loved he was by everyone who watched or knew him

    June 18, 2008 at 6:02 pm |
  13. EJ (USA)

    That memorial service was so moving and so sad. His son Luke is just amazing. Tom Brokaw was eloquent as always. What a service. I think NBC/MSNBC did an amazing job. Tim I'm sure is in awe watching how he was celebrated ('What a country'). He was celebrated like a head of state. Just beautiful.

    June 18, 2008 at 5:56 pm |
  14. Heather

    The love Tim Russert had for life,family and country reminds me of my Dad. I know that when his time comes, I can say without a doubt like Luke Russert I was loved. His death reminds us that you cant put yourself last. You have to care of yourself. He took care of everyone else then himself. But despite that what a wonderful human being. The world we live in and are apart of is a much better place on so many levels because of him. He reminded all of us of the other wonderful fathers and mothers and parents who do whatever it takes to support to their families and teach by example and make sure that they know that they are loved. Money may pay the bills, but love is priceless you cant buy that or the memories . You have those forever. We do live in a amazing and wonderful country. Tim Russert was right about that. Maybe his death will inspire some young father who is having a hard time and struggling that he is not alone and that love truly is what is important.

    June 18, 2008 at 5:41 pm |
  15. Susan

    Bruce:

    Tim Russert's passing teaches us just how important family is. It forms the basis of the person that we become in adulthood.

    It also shows us that we live in the best country in the world. Through hard work, education and a moral compass it does not matter where we come from, we can be anything we want to be.

    Susan
    Phoenixville,PA

    June 18, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  16. Bev C NY

    It should teach us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. Mr. Russert always had a kind word and smile for anyone, especially those of us from Buffalo, NY. If you treat people the way you are supposed to, you get paid back in many, many ways and people don't forget you. Mr. Russert's upbringing and schooling made him what he was – a true blue collar guy not a Washington insider.

    Bev Cortese
    Twon of Tonawnda, NY (suburb of Buffalo NY)

    June 18, 2008 at 4:03 pm |
  17. Monika

    OMG! I am soo tickled you posted this blog! I was going to leave a similar comment to an earlier post, but then I thought, it’s not going to get posted anyway because it’s too far off the wall.

    I have never been able to comprehend why people can come up with the most favorable, complimentary, praising and loving words for a person, as soon as that person has died and is not able to hear them anymore. I have the same feeling about leaving beautiful flower arrangements and other decorations on a grave. What good does it do the dead person to be told how wonderful they were and how much we appreciated them and to be given beautiful flowers, while when they were alive they were taken for granted? Why do people wait for someone to die to show them their appreciation? I think it’s just sick and totally perverted, if you ask me!

    Just imagine what the world would be like, if we gave flowers to people we like while they are alive and if we told them how much we love them and appreciate them while they can still hear us! I know I would feel a lot better if someone did that to me!

    PS: I would like to see Dr. Weinstein more often on AC360.

    June 18, 2008 at 3:42 pm |
  18. Jo Ann

    Dr. Weinstein,

    Since Tim Russert’s death last Friday, many people have been speculating about what made him so special. The truth is that Tim was able to touch people who did not know him personally because he was open and genuine; he did not put up a barrier between himself and his audience and this is how he gained our trust and respect. There are very few journalists out there with that ability and that is why his loss has been so deeply felt.

    When I watched "Meet the Press" last Sunday, I was touched by Tom Brokaw’s show of emotion and the way James Carville gently held Mary Matalin’s hand during the show. Somehow these moments made them seem more human and not just talking heads on a news program.

    Although viewers want unbiased straightforward reporting, under certain circumstances an emotional response or reaction is appropriate, even for journalists. I could never understand the criticism that Anderson received when he showed emotion during his time covering Katrina and its aftermath. It seemed not only appropriate, but also necessary. I am sure some reporters use emotion to gain ratings points, but I never doubted his sincerity for a single moment.

    As with Tim, I think viewers can recognize the real thing when they see it.

    I agree; we should not wait for death to express our love and gratitude for each other. We should express our feelings every chance we get.

    Anyone who read "Big Russ and Me" and knew anything about Tim's life knew that he never missed a chance to express his gratitude and love for others and that is why he will be deeply missed by so many.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    June 18, 2008 at 3:33 pm |
  19. JC- Los Angeles

    For the first time, you seem to make perfect sense when you ponder whether enough people actually express their affection for the living rather than praise the deceased. In today's world, the general public has been let down time and time again by leaders, executives, peers and significant others. When an exception to the rule exists, like Tim Russert, it's often difficult to express true affection and appreciation when they are alive. The reason that people hesitate to express their true feelings is for fear of being let down. There are far too many people in society who let down their fellow man and unfortunately, one less great gut who represented the best of a dying breed.

    June 18, 2008 at 2:43 pm |
  20. Lisa

    What better to honor Mr. Russert's memory than to get journalism back to where it's suppose to be – objective, reporting events, asking the tough questions that need to be asked, etc. Holding newsmakers and politicians accountable. I would truly think that he is one of the last of a dying (no pun intended) breed.

    June 18, 2008 at 2:18 pm |
  21. Lilibeth

    Sadly, it’s a common scenario when loved ones die. Once, I was at a cousin’s funeral. She died unexpectedly at a young age of 30 from a brain aneurysm. Her brother said, “I never told my sister that I loved her. I wish I did. I didn’t know that she would die this young.” We shouldn’t wait to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us, for we never know when we or they will depart this earth.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    June 18, 2008 at 2:13 pm |
  22. Cindy

    It should teach everyone that we are not promised a tomorrow so we should live each day to the fullest like it is our last. And that to get respect you have to give it! That is why so many people loved him.

    Cindy...Ga.

    June 18, 2008 at 1:54 pm |