Season 2 Episode 4

The Company We Keep:
Choosing Role Models

The Company We Keep: Choosing Role Models

Season 2 Episode 4

About The Episode

In this episode, Harry, Connie, and their guest Ira Rosen, a 24-time Emmy-winning investigative journalist formerly with 60 Minutes, discuss the importance of positive influences, making conscious choices, and the profound impacts of role models, both good and bad. Ira shares his family's history of survival during World War II, offering a poignant lesson on the choices between good and evil. He also talks about his career challenges, stresses around high-stakes journalism, and how he found joy and fulfillment in the smallest yet significant aspects of life.

Connect with Ira Rosen

"What's so important in life, I've discovered, is role models. And I've had some great ones, but I've also had some bad influences."

- Ira Rosen: Journalist, Author, Producer

Season 2 Episode 4

Episode highlights

00:00 Introducing Ira Rosen
04:28 60 Minutes: The Impact of Mike Wallace
06:11 Personal Growth and Awareness
10:45 Building Authentic Relationships
20:41 Handling Conflict with Grace
24:43 Passing on Wisdom: Avoiding Negative Reactions
25:38 Learning from Tough Mentors
26:28 The Importance of Having Fun at Work
30:04 Lessons from a Father’s Survival
31:55 Choices of Good and Evil
39:05 The Importance of Role Models
40:19 Practical Steps to Being a Better Person
44:04 Embracing New Experiences and Lifelong Learning

Key Links & Resources

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About Ira Rosen

For nearly 25 years, Ira Rosen produced some of the most memorable, important and ground-breaking stories for 60 Minutes. A former Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University, Rosen was the senior producer and one of the creators of Prime Time Live at ABC, a show hosted by Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson.  

Rosen pioneered the use of hidden cameras for Prime Time Live investigations. The stories included exposing racial discrimination, abuses in VA hospitals, mistreatment of farm workers, unsafe and unsanitary food handling practices inside meat packing plants and supermarkets, and political corruption in Washington. His stories led to major reforms across countries, corporations and governments. 

He has won nearly all the major television awards including 24 National Emmys, four Dupont awards, two Peabody awards, six Investigative Reporters and Editors awards (IRE) and two RFK awards. In 2019, in addition to the previously mentioned awards, he garnered two Sigma Delta Chi awards, a Murrow and Hillman awards,  for his Opioid reports. He is also the co-author of a book on the accident at Three Mile Island titled, The Warning.

Full transcript: Ira Rosen

Ira Rosen: what’s so important in life I’ve discovered, is role models. And I’ve had some great ones, but I’ve also had some bad one of the people I worked with early on at 60 minutes was probably the toughest interviewer television has ever seen. And when I was hired by him to be his producer, at the ripe old age of 26, I was absorbing everything about him.

I wanted to learn television. I wanted to learn what made him so special and such a great interviewer and such a great television presence. But I found myself also absorbing some of his really bad traits.

 

Introducing Ira Rosen

Harry Cohen: Welcome. Who you just heard is Ira Rosen. Ira is an old friend. We went to college together and he became an investigative journalist and a producer on 60 Minutes. And what he shared is going to open up your minds on [00:01:00] how we can learn from anyone. Life presents us sun and salt and it’s our choice.

 And what I got from listening to it and being a part of the conversation is those choices are available to us at every age and stage of our lives. 

Connie Fontaine: And didn’t he do such a great job, Harry, of introducing that through some stories. he’s a great storyteller, so I hope our listeners will enjoy every bit of this one.

Harry Cohen: So Ira, it is my absolute delight that you agreed to do this podcast with us. For those that don’t know, Ira became an incredibly successful 24 Emmy winning investigative journalist and was an executive producer at 60 Minutes. And we’ve been talking about these concepts: Be the Sun, Not the Salt. And he would call me and say, Hey, I got a great story of how this really helped me. And I was very moved [00:02:00] to have such a bright and successful and accomplished person at this age and stage of his life say that this work really helped him. And I said, I’d love to have you as a guest on our podcast, specifically for those of us who can look back at our life and say, I wish I knew then what I know now. And I want more people to be helped by the lessons that you have learned from your life. And so without further ado, Connie, please meet my friend and very successful, good human being, Ira Rosen.

Connie Fontaine: Morning, Ira.

Ira Rosen: Good morning. By the way, I was producer, not executive producer, just a slight correction. I would be a lot richer if I was executive producer, but that’s okay.

Harry Cohen: You’re very wealthy in many, many ways. And wealth is not just about the bread: beautiful, loving wife of many years and three beautiful, [00:03:00] fabulous kids and a great life doing a lot of good now, so I consider you wealthy as hell.

Ira Rosen: Thank you, Harry. 

Connie Fontaine: And I’ve heard the stories and that’s why it’s so much fun for me to have you included today. you’ve got so many lessons you learned early in life.

And then obviously later that I think we’re going to benefit a lot today from this discussion, so thank you for being here.

Ira Rosen: Thanks, Connie.

Harry Cohen: So Ira, could you tell us, cause you reminded me that the origin story of how we reconnected 

 

Ira Rosen: yeah. my daughter was at Elon. She was running the TEDx talks and we started talking and Harry was Such an inspiration in terms of some of the things that he was saying. And it’s such an important lesson for college kids. the type of stuff that Harry talks about, it’s not the stuff that they teach in college.

 And so Johanna, Immediately loved the idea and invited Harry to [00:04:00] participate and it really resonated with the students and they all talked about it afterwards. And that’s how we began our conversation. You know, as we get older, sometimes we tune things out and we, we don’t hear things and that day in the audience listening to Harry, I actually sort of absorbed some of the things he was saying and what’s so important in life I’ve discovered, is role models. And I’ve had some great ones, but I’ve also had some bad influences. 

60 Minutes: The Impact of Mike Wallace

Ira Rosen: And one of the people I worked with early on at 60 minutes was Mike Wallace. And for people who don’t remember who Mike Wallace was, he was probably the toughest interviewer television has ever seen. And when I was hired by him to be his producer at the ripe old age of 26 I was absorbing everything about him.

I wanted to learn television. I wanted to learn what made him so special and such a great interviewer and such a great [00:05:00] television presence. But I found myself also absorbing some of his really bad traits. he would, start trouble for no apparent reason. he would diminish people who would serve him. he would diminish the people around him. He would be bad to his family. And it became, he was a role model and you absorbed the entire package, if you will. And as I got older, I realized that, boy, I learned some really awful things from him. I learned some great things about television, but as far as being a human being, I learned some really awful things. And I said to myself, boy, at the end of days with this guy, this, is that really what he wants to remember at the end? Or does he really want to remember really maybe helping people out, pushing people forward, leaving a presence in individuals who could carry on his tradition. Who would speak well of him? 

Personal Growth and Legacy

Ira Rosen: I’m related to somebody [00:06:00] named the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov was the founder of the Kositic movement. And his name literally translated means the bearer of the good name. and I always felt that was something that was I shouldn’t say always felt.

I recently began to think about this as that is the legacy of the That you want to leave rather than the legacy of someone like Mike did,

And then what Harry’s book and Harry’s influences in, and I wish I spend more time with Harry, but I value the time I do spend with Harry in our conversations. What it does is it gets me to begin thinking about various relationships and Also about, the other night my wife, Iris and I were in New York city and there was a guy who was right behind me and he’s honking and flashing his lights.

And I’m like, figuring what am I doing wrong? Oh, I didn’t move up another 10 feet closer. It was a red light, but I wasn’t, I [00:07:00] was creating a little distance and the old Ira would have cut him off, confronted, you know, whatever. And I just quietly moved aside and he got out of his car and he’s yelling at me and I’m just taking a couple of deep breaths and I’m moving away and letting it go, just letting it go.

And, and that thing, which I found myself being changed by not taking on the karma of some other person, but creating my own karma in this

Harry Cohen: so Ira, that story and the translation of the Baal Shem Tov’s name,

bearer of one’s good name. What a what a simple reminder live our lives in that way. I want to live like that. I want to have that the new Harry, not the old Harry be my legacy. And to your point, Ira, [00:08:00] we can learn from role models, good and bad. If we’re wise enough, We can see, that we are influenced by the company we keep, And then change the company or walk away. I think there’s a great hope for us because I think it’s profound that people influence us for good and bad. out with go ahead.

Connie Fontaine: The karma, you talked about karma, how you felt, does your wife recognize this new Ira?

Ira Rosen: Oh, yeah. Yes, she does. She does. And laughs about it and jokes about it.

Harry Cohen: I love that about it. 

Connie Fontaine: Yeah. We laugh about it, but we also, I’m sure that it doesn’t just make your blood pressure a little lower and feel great about yourself but I bet it feels a little nicer to be a passenger in the vehicle too. Yeah. 

Ira Rosen: you know what it is when I was working and I had. I was a producer at 60 minutes for the number one correspondent for many years. And it was basically intense, incredibly [00:09:00] intense. And you have to be totally focused. You have to be problem solving every minute of the day. And sometimes you weren’t nice when you were doing these problem solvings. And what I’ve discovered now that I’m a little bit removed from that is I have more of an awareness. Of what is actually going around as opposed to just trying to accomplish a task. When you’re trying to accomplish a task, you have to succeed. That’s it. And whatever means are necessary, you have to succeed. And if someone makes a mistake, you bear down on them. I’m not, I was not a yeller, but you get really angry because somebody may be jeopardizing a broadcast or story or whatever. And. The techniques you used in that were successful, but maybe not successful as creating you as a person. Now that some of that pressure is removed, [00:10:00] I have more of an awareness of experiences with individuals than maybe I had before.

Harry Cohen: I want that awareness that you speak of Ira to be more available to all of us. So while people are living in their current lives and circumstances and jobs, I want people to realize, I can still bear down on the problem and not the person. I can still handle this emergency in a very powerful and effective way. you can still be heliotropic because we can have awareness of what needs to be done in the most effective and respectful way.

I love that challenge. I want to be on my game and still treat people with respect. 

 

Ira Rosen: you have that choice of being good guy, bad guy. 

Building Authentic Relationships

Ira Rosen: But I was, as you were talking, I was reminded of actually something when I was producing is, [00:11:00] You have to give a person a reason when you’re trying to get to develop a source or try to get documents or something for a story. You have to give the person a reason to want to like you because they’re not going to generally do it just out of the goodness of their heart. They want to see you succeed. They trust you. And how do you do that? And some of the lessons I’ve learned, Just as a journalist is be there for them, not just when you want something, but be there for them just on a day to day basis. Let them offload some hardships that they’re going through or tell them a joke or call them just to see how they’re doing. most reporters, when they approach somebodyThey say I want to know this information right now. And you could see the person at the other end of the phone.

 get very tense and they’re not going to help the reporter out, but if you could basically be a person that becomes in many ways, a friend, a [00:12:00] trusted person, they get to see who you are, and then they decide to give you whatever information you might be seeking. 

 My point is that you develop relationships. And one of the things I found in speaking at various schools is people don’t understand the importance of learning how to develop a relationship.

What is a relationship? It’s a two way street. You give and you get, and people have conversations. And that is really, uh, I think so important in helping you develop this awareness: people have missions and you have goals. but developing relationships is, and helps you personally and also helps you professionally.

Connie Fontaine: I was gonna ask if that learning, if you can think of an example, that’s trans, you’ve translated that learning into your personal life. that put into practice if they’re not an investigative reporter. 

 Do 

Ira Rosen: after I [00:13:00] retired, decided that, I had a huge Rolodex, you know, thousand names. And I said, look, I’m going to just break my Rolodex down to 10, 12 people who really matter to me. And I’m going to really focus on 10 or 12 people. 

it’s much more fulfilling thing as opposed to just trying to grow a Rolodex. So many people, go to a place and network and collect business cards and, you send them an email and, And on the other hand, there are people who might’ve been quote, friends over the years who you shed, who you realize. This person is only calling me when he wants something from me. 

Harry Cohen: So the way I look at these things, I agree. I read that the investment in deepening authentic relationships in a pure and loving and good way. is one of the secrets to life, which is make your motive clear and [00:14:00] clean. 

 This relationship insight, how I apply what you said is when I’m talking to a person, I really try to pay attention. What is it that they want so I can hear it as opposed to what I want, which is really important and try and listen deeply to the authenticity of the moment. Am I trying to get something from them? That’s a little icky and sticky and ew, and I know I’ve been there and it’s going to go south.

If I’m trying to get something from them, so I’m going to be nice to them. So they give me something. It’s icky versus perfect stranger. To deep, long lost, how are you? And listen for the answer. Just yesterday I did this with a person. And it was wonderful because she seemed like she was in a bad way.

And I listened to how she was doing. And I just gave her, I don’t know, five minutes of counsel. But to your point, it’s the authenticity. And the purity of [00:15:00] that investment in relationships that we, me and everybody else, I can do a better job. No bullshit. So that I’m not trying to do anything other than just, I want to try and help you. 

So this authenticity of deepening authentic relationships is a lifelong practice and aspIration.

good, never too late, Never. 

Connie Fontaine: too. It’s things may not have been, you might not have executed, in a high pressure situation the way you would today. 

you’re totally right. Because, it, it’s never too late to change. As we talk, I’m thinking of various things, which is you don’t have to be an asshole to succeed. 

Ira Rosen: I’m about to turn 70. Okay. It took me maybe all my life to understand that, Madra, if you will. many years ago when I started in journalism, I covered yogis and Swamis for New Age Journal [00:16:00] and East West Journal. And so I got to meet a lot of these, you know, Quote gurus and there was one guy who was legitimate deal and I was 22 years old when I met him, it was Pir Vilayat Khan, who was the head of the Sufis and the whirling dervishes. And he gave me, Darshan which is basically an inspIrational quote to meditate on for the rest of your life. And his Darshan to me was change your career every seven years. That way you become the ruler of your career and the career doesn’t become the ruler of you.

And he didn’t mean go from ABC to NBC. He meant going from maybe being a journalist to an electrician, To a mountain climber, literally changing your career and understand that. And of course I didn’t follow that, but now I understand that so much better. Something he said to me 48 years ago. And it’s not too late to change.

It’s not too late to. Say, my ego says I need to be doing [00:17:00] documentary work. Says who? I want to be a gardener. I want to go outside, maybe plant flowers, or I want to do something, hang out and, yesterday I had a wonderful day. 

 I went and had a great poker game with some old colleagues who I used to work with. And it was a perfect day. And you know, everybody was nice. But also what’s interesting is as people are getting older, the tough exteriors of some of these people are shedding. One of the people, in fact, at the poker table is one of the top investigative reporters in the country, and he’s a totally different person now, and he’s mellower, he’s calmer and it almost like you don’t, if you didn’t know the face, you wouldn’t know the person, and you don’t almost recognize it, and as you do some of the things that, Harry has espoused in his book and his lectures also is you begin to change as a person where people say, is that the Ira I know, or, [00:18:00] something like that and almost like people don’t recognize you. What happened to that tough guy or that sarcastic guy, 

Connie Fontaine: so how do we influence people younger that are 

Harry Cohen: Hmm. 

Connie Fontaine: pressure situations or working for big jerks 

Ira Rosen: you know, it’s a great. 

Connie Fontaine: to

Ira Rosen: Yeah, no, it’s a great question. And,

The Power of Awareness

Ira Rosen: you know, once You get out into the wild, crazy world, it affects you as a person and influences you in a way that kind of maybe reverts you to a bad nature and the key is to be aware. every Day people should work on an awareness. And in some senses, yes, meditating is a great way to do it. But meditating is too easy. You sit in a chair, you close your eyes, you meditate, you listen to your breathing or a mantra, whatever it is. And I believe I’ve meditated a lot over the years. It’s much tougher to meditate when you’re out there in the world and [00:19:00] try to be in, in a state of awareness when you’re surrounded with other people or other noise or other stuff. That is the reality of meditation in terms of being able to do that. When all the chaos is around you.

Connie Fontaine: And that is, that is the, the work of this work, this very simple metaphor mindset way of being, which is being the sun and not the salt in the world. So that meditation that you speak of is how do I make someone feel? What is my effect on another person? Because I’m affecting them one way or the other. Am I uplifting and bringing out their best? Am I bringing out their best, most wonderful qualities, me, or am I in any way bringing out their less than wonderful qualities and that work that, that what is that? How would I do that?

Why don’t you just be wonderful yourself, be a [00:20:00] good listener, be curious, be generous, be authentic, be vulnerable, be present. I love that work. That’s my meditation. Yeah. in the moment. being able to make that choice Yeah. last night, you didn’t react to the beeping. You didn’t react to the jerk behind you. Is that because you’ve been practicing it? Why do you think you were able to make that choice now?

Ira Rosen: And again, I was thinking about this, the old Ira, had a pretty big, ugly looking car, cheap car at one point. And if somebody wanted to play bumper cars with me on the West side highway, I’m there, baby. You’re going to, I don’t care if you bang up my 300 car or whatever. I have a better car now but I think it’s nothing is going to be accomplished.

Handling Conflict with Grace

Ira Rosen: My son, it was very interesting. My son was on a a Metro liner the other day coming up to visit us and there were three drunk girls, maybe in their early twenties, the way he described it. And they were cursing at him, making fun of him and he had his headphones on.

He was trying to do some work on his [00:21:00] computer and he ignored them. And he came home after the whole experience and he felt really horrible. And I said Jake, you did the right thing. You didn’t engage them. and he said, no, you’re And he’s, I said, yeah, maybe you should have gone to another car and avoid it.

And yeah, I probably could have done that, he felt so bad that he didn’t spar with them, that he didn’t engage, that he didn’t give back. And I said, but you actually didn’t allow their drunken night to affect you. Would it might’ve been better to move to another car?

Sure. But they also might’ve followed you. And they might’ve carried on and then it would have elevated even more. I was very proud of him for, not reacting like that. The old Ira would have absolutely reacted to a situation like that. And, whatever I would have done, I’ve called the conductor.

And if you read the headlines on a daily basis in New York city, there’s always somebody getting [00:22:00] shot at. Pushed on subway and it never begins. you’re usually only seeing the end of the story. You’re not seeing the first eight or nine chapters that led up to that particular moment. And usually what happens is there’s a buildup. Things just don’t generally explode. There is a slow buildup. And you have to learn, and that I’ve discovered, is you have to learn to avoid those buildups. Is the end going to make you feel better? I curse those drunken girls out. Is it going to make me feel better that I cut the guy off who’s honking at me and flashing his lights at me? No, it’s not going to make me feel better. Just. Meditate, take a step back, breathe deep, take it in, think of a nice thought, think of petunias or whatever, and then move on.

Harry Cohen: and I think the answer to that question that you asked Connie is yes, the practice of [00:23:00] awareness, the practice of seeing this as a drama. someone has lit a fuse. I ain’t gonna add more lighter fluid or fuel to this mess. I am going to do anything to not make it worse. One of the things I think about on a daily basis, to your point, Ira, is what can I do in this moment or this day to make it better or not worse? How can I be helpful? How can I say less? Say nothing? How can I not say something that would make it worse? Your son, Jake, was magnificent. He didn’t make it worse. He was victorious. You praised him. Good father, dude. You know what I mean? Not only the better Ira, Way to go praise the young man for doing a good job as we know as parents of older kids. Our work is never done in the, we’re [00:24:00] not raising them, but we’re still being influencers like Mike Wallace was an influencer to you and we are all influencers. Of our peers. I want to be a good influence to your point. 

Well done. I like to give ourselves grace, pass it on so that somebody else can go, yeah, I guess I can do that. And when we do blow it, when we do become hooked and caught and lost in somebody’s drama, I like when we’re smart enough and aware enough, Ira, to do the next right thing. 

 But we were talking earlier prior to this podcast. Do we need the decades? For us to, it just a question of awareness practice, decades of life? Can we speed it up for somebody?

Passing on Wisdom: Avoiding Negative Reactions

Harry Cohen: I don’t know.

Maybe this is our mission at this age of our lives, which is, let’s see if we can pass on the wisdom so that they don’t have to engage with those three drunks on the train. Because we all know how it’s gonna go.

Connie Fontaine: It’s a lesson that [00:25:00] just because someone’s being salty doesn’t mean salt is the right way to react. And you and you learned that, looking back, you’ve learned it. I’m not sure when you feel like you learned it. But that is definitely something that we hear often in business where people sayyeah, that’s the way the guy is.

He’s a jackass. So I treat him back the same way. And yet that builds in it, as you know, just builds this caustic environment that nobody’s happy in. 

Ira Rosen: the lesson about when you learn it, I wish I had, I wish I knew now what I, had now know now what I should have had maybe many years ago. Would it have made me less successful? Is a question. 

Would it have been? 

Learning from Tough Mentors

Ira Rosen: Would it made me as successful dealing with all those corrupt senators and gangsters and whatever else I was dealing with in terms of the various people that I was talking to. And when I was experiencing some of these people, That, that became mentors. and some are really tough guys. [00:26:00] And I wanna say guys, ’cause pretty much all the early mentors I had were men. it wasn’t really till later when I worked with Diane Sawyer that that I really began to work with some fantastic women. But the early days of working with some of those guys, it was the personality of them to be tough. To be in your face that, you steal a story from me. I’m going to steal one from you. And it was, it it was this constant rivalry. 

The Importance of Having Fun at Work

Ira Rosen: And one of my mentors back then when I wrote my book and I gave it to him and he wrote me the most extraordinary letter. about it. And he said, I read your book and I was really saddened by it because I wish you had more fun in what you did, and not worry about all the rivalries and all that. and this is one of the top journalists in America back then.

And he said, I had a lot of fun. Yeah, we had rivalries, but we were all colleagues and it was [00:27:00] great joy. And we’d go out to dinners and let, and he said, you didn’t seem to have enough fun in what you were doing. And I thought about that a lot and he was totally right. And how do you teach a younger person that it’s okay to have fun in the employment area. I’m talking about having fun in the employment, having joy in your job. And when I was speaking at Princeton I was saying some fairly provocative things, partly just to see if it would get a reaction, it was famous doonesbury cartoon when he’s teaching at a school and he’s yelling out some stuff and everyone’s taking notes and he starts yelling at the students, don’t you, didn’t you hear a word I just said? And it’s, I, it was one of those things is how do you break through and teach a course at a college or high school even? That it’s okay to have fun in your job, that it’s okay. And it’s not going to hurt your career. It’s not going to, do any of that. And by you having fun, other people around you will have, [00:28:00] and there’ll be a joy that’s spread from person to person. 

And he said, yeah you were a big time producer and you won all these awards. Good for you. That’s what they’re paying you for. But the thing that they’re not paying you for is to have fun and you didn’t have enough fun. And that really affected me.

Connie Fontaine: The way people treated each other had something to do with that, because as we’ve learned, and we continue to practice is making other people feel good, it feels good to me too. And so you have fun, you have more fun with the people, not just because they’re having a better time, but you’re having a better time too.

Ira Rosen: No, that’s exactly right. And

 Harry councils in corporations and it’s not that dissimilar to the hallways of 60 Minutes where one corporate person is pitted against another and if they succeed, you don’t succeed. How do you work and tolerate your colleagues in a situation where your success is dependent upon their failure?

Harry Cohen: your insight about fun is [00:29:00] profound and I don’t want to let it go. I want to have living your life while you’re expressing joy. We’re going to call that fun is heliotropic. And we have been around many people. And ourselves too. And I pride myself on, I love what I do and when I’m doing it the best, I am having a ball and I’ve been around very successful and effective people of all stripes, when they are having fun, it’s delightful to be around them. It is heliotropic. To think, you mean I can have fun and be successful? In fact, it’s going to help you be successful because people are going to like to be around you. Having fun is contagious. It is really good. I’m thinking of specifically people that I love and know who are having a ball in doing their work. I don’t like being around people who are not [00:30:00] having fun because I feel the tension of their tension. And that’s this contagious affect. 

Lessons from a Father’s Survival

Connie Fontaine: Yeah. And if, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about your earliest mentor with your father.

Harry Cohen: Oh,

Connie Fontaine: and I mean, I got the sense that you learned optimism from him and I think that’s one of those things. We learn those lessons. We don’t always carry them forward, but early in life, but you’ve definitely learned from that.

Do you want to talk about him and those lessons 

Ira Rosen: I mean, I think about it every week, which is the choices we make in our lives and the choice that, that the family he was, the background is my father grew up in a little town called Gonzuka, Poland. And in 1938, the Germans came in. And basically gave permission for the townsfolks for the next 48 hours to do anything they wanted to the Jews. 

They could murder them. They could rob them. They could do anything they wanted. And They won’t be held accountable for any crime that they commit. On the other hand, there were some townsfolks [00:31:00] who felt that was what was going to happen to the Jews was wrong. And they chose to hide the Jews at risk to their family, because if they would have been caught hiding a Jew, their family would have been slaughtered. So what happened was my father was hidden by a Catholic family farmer. and he spent World War Two basically in a hayloft. And the father knew, the mother knew, and the oldest daughter of the family knew.

The three other children in their house had no idea that my father was hiding in the barn. And his only friend at that time was a little mouse that he used to play with during this period of time. And he’d, he’d come out at night and the father would say, Leo, do you hear the guns in the background?

That’s the Russians. They’re getting closer. You’re going to soon be out of here. It was my father at one point just wanted to give up. He just wanted to walk out and say, do what you want with me. And he survived World War II. 

Choices of Good and Evil

Ira Rosen: And so the question I have, and that I asked [00:32:00] myself is given the choice to save a child, but it would risk putting your family at risk.

Would you do that? And in turn, given permission, to rob, to steal, to do whatever you want at, you would gain great wealth by doing it. And knowing there’ll be no punishment at all for what you do. Would you do that? What choice would you make being put into the situation in 1938 Poland? Where would you fall?

What do you do? And my father, and what happened was his mother and his father and his two twin sisters, they ended up getting shot andthey got let out into the fields and the townsfolks had picnics watching the Jews get shot in the fields. And so he could think of life as being that way, the cruelty of one person to another. But he chose to think of this one Catholic [00:33:00] family that chose to risk their lives to save his. And I wouldn’t be here today talking to you had it not been for that family. They’re the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem calls them righteous Gentiles. But they’re more than just righteous Gentiles.

They’re real angels on the planet.

Harry Cohen: but for you, Ira, that story is a story of his legacy of seeing the world through the eyes of a person who can choose life is full of evil, rotten, no goodniks, or life is full of saints and angels. You have been affected by that legacy. which is let’s look at the angels because they’re both there. Let’s live our lives like those angels and let’s try our best to see the world is yes, both are true. I’m going to both hang out with and try and be [00:34:00] as righteous as they, 

Connie Fontaine: Hopefully we never have that kind of horror but you’re right. The day to day choices, about good and evil, good and bad, positive and negative thoughts feeding that good wolf every day.

Harry Cohen: When I think about sun and salt, Connie, to me, this simple idea, we have the choice to be good guy or bad guy. We

have choice to be sun versus salt period in every moment. It’s not as horrible as that life and death is that however. I can choose to be kind or say something snarky and you think well, it doesn’t really matter.

Yes, it does. This vision for us is that I refrain from being snarky. Good for you, dude. I wasn’t sarcastic. It’s we returned To the New York city moment. That was the same choice. Ira, you could have been the old Ira or the wise Ira I’m loving that forever we’re faced with that, not necessarily [00:35:00] hiding someone who, whose life is at risk, although that might be the case, but for the rest of the day, I’m going to make some good choices today.

yeah, what’s interesting, Harry, is also when I do these various lectures and I pose that question that I posed, about what choice would you make? it’s so interesting because you want to think that you would make the choice of hiding someone like my father, 16 year old, 15 year old kid. But I’ll tell you something, the majority of the people, raise their hand on the other thing. That, hey, it’s an opportunity. Think about, you remember the L. A. riots when there was looting and, everybody got involved in looting and stuff and they did this.

Ira Rosen: I was doing a story. Recently they started giving out the PPP money, which is, during the pandemic, they gave money for businesses to go forward. And now they realize something like 500 billion is theft. And I can’t [00:36:00] tell you how many people, they feel stupid for not participating in the thievery. Because all they had to do is fill out a one page form and claim they had 20 employees and they lost a certain amount of money and God, everyone else did it. Why couldn’t I do it? And that

was, you know, I can’t tell you that reaction I got. And I’m trying to say, no, this is really wrong. We’re going to expose this.

but

Harry Cohen: that to me is the life that’s the 10, 000 year old story of you can choose this path or this path. I don’t think that’ll ever change.

I can tell you. That there’s a right way in a wrong way. And my job is to not tell you my job is to take is to feed the good wolf. I know that, which is why this work isn’t about what other people should do. It’s about, I got plenty to do -me- and I know all this stuff. And I still am sometimes unconsciously snarky. And I’m using the metaphor [00:37:00] of take the PPP money. Now I, as a business applied for the PPP and took it and our business is successful. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I will do something wrong. But if I can make the choice, can take the high road or the low road, which way. Take a moment, breathe high road or low road. Talk to those three women on the train or keep your head down, get out of the car and start a fistfight or just smile and breathe. Those are our moments. I’m hoping that, we can, I want to live a good life and help others to live a good life.

That, that’s why I wanted you on this podcast, Ira, because the choices are endless and forever. I don’t think they’ll ever stop. 

the thing that the thing that you know, and again, Harry, I give you a lot of due here ’cause I never really thought about this stuff and I probably thought about it when I was, you and I went to Cornell together and we were [00:38:00] dabbling in some of this stuff back then. There, various meditative forms and yogas and things like that.

Ira Rosen: And we were playing with it at the time. Almost like trying a suit on for size or something. and then we got immersed in our careers and paths and, never really went back to some of the things we were thinking about back then and until much later. and what I’ve discovered is really to have an awareness. There were so many times that I felt that I was, going through the motions or so task-specific that I needed to get, this person in that chair to be interviewed by that person with a camera crew looking this way, that was it. And whatever way I needed to do it, whatever cleverness I had to accomplish that was the preeminent moment, not, and I ended up actually probably not. Doing as good a story as I could have done, had I been able to just breathe a little bit and [00:39:00] take in some of the back and forth and explanations of things. I was trying to avoid politics, but hell, I’m going to go there. 

The Importance of Role Models

Ira Rosen: It’s so important for society to have the right role models. Forget about policy 

 It’s the role model. I want this person. The role

model for my children. 

Harry Cohen: I have a role model. I want to be a role model for my children. And what we started with this conversation, we are influenced by people for good and for worse. we started this interview talking about how you were influenced by Mike Wallace for good and for bad. That’s a phenomenon. And thatI want to be an influence for good, period. And I want for people who are listening to this podcast to say to themselves I want to be an influence for good. Drop the mic. Then go figure out what that would look like. And if you and I and anybody listening can be an influencer [00:40:00] for good let’s not get into the debate of what good is. Do the next right thing. If you don’t think that’s good, do next. And how can we go wrong? If with more, we have more awareness to be a good influence by our actions for others. That to me is the kit and the caboodle. 

Practical Steps to Being a Better Person

Ira Rosen: you know, first steps are really important. And I believe that the first step. Is to, in many ways, make a list. You could either on a piece of paper or in your head of the people who are most important to you. And are you being a good enough friend or a husband that really matter the most to you?

Are you giving them your time, your attention? 

And you focus on the people who are most important to you and every single day.

 And so what I’ve done as a first step is make up that list 

And am I doing right by them? After this podcast, I’m going to go take a walk in the woods with my dog, [00:41:00] call some people and, have chats with some friends and, it could be talking about the Mets or it could be talking about the weather or who knows what we’ll talk about, but we’ll have conversations.

We’ll engage with each other. And that is so important: figuring out who you want on the list and the people on the list are people whose values you share. and Harry and I have talked about this over the years is, as you get older you shed certain people, which is okay. And they shed you, by the way, it’s a two way street. People shed you. You can’t have an ego about this. You get shedded and you shed. And that is part of the growing up process in this thing.

Harry Cohen: I love that. And as we grow in age to do the simplest things of shedding those people who are not good company, wherever they are in your life journey, and also be comfortable being shed. So be it. But also what you said about making a list of the people in our lives is very practical I could be a [00:42:00] better fill in the blank. Husband, friend, colleague, boss, son, whatever. It’s all beautiful. I love the actions that follow. You were talking earlier about, we dabbled with this notion of enlightenment, the spiritual practice. There’s a great quote, which I won’t get right, which everyone wants enlightenment, but no one wants to do the dishes. I know how powerful simple things like, is there anything you need today? I’m going to the store, sweetie. Nicely done. Thank you. I could do more of that, hold your tongue. So and so said something snarky. Don’t, you don’t have to respond Jake on the subway. I like this. I’m going to be a better husband, better father, better friend, better boss. 

 to your point, Ira. man, oh man, there’s more where that came from. So

Connie Fontaine: all the little things, that’s the reminder. 

Harry Cohen: that’s 

Connie Fontaine: like a little thing that you reach out to each of these folks, but everyone appreciates that. And the little things are simple, but really [00:43:00] gratifying 

Harry Cohen: and, and impactful and that’s enough. Not small. It’s big. Let’s do it now. Let’s not wait.

Connie Fontaine: so we’re talking, we’re talking successes, but sometimes also there is an old colleague of mine who’s going through some health issues. And I called him up and see how he’s doing. I heard about, you’re going through this or that.

Ira Rosen: He still was, why didn’t you call me sooner? Kind of thing. And I just, Okay, I tried. We did it. And so not everything we’re talking about today is great success stories. and, just because I failed in that particular phone conversation doesn’t mean I’m not going to try again. 

 that again, this is the work or practice or choices that we make. Do I take the high road or the low road? Do I say something or say nothing? Do I let it pass? Do I learn to walk away? All of those [00:44:00] brilliant choices. So I want to give Ira the last words. 

Connie Fontaine: 

Embracing New Experiences and Lifelong Learning

Ira Rosen: I think, we’ve been talking a lot about, develop yourself personally, but I think you should maybe look at the end of each day and say, what new thing did I learn today? Pick up a book that maybe I never would read this book, but read the book. Or I would never in a million years, call this person, call the person, try to advance yourself. A very close friend of mine he was New York Times bureau chief and you know what he’s doing now? He learned how to fly little one engine planes. He fixes the planes up.

He moved his career away from what he had done before. He was one of the most accomplished journalists of our time. But he just transported it. And I think one of the things is years advance and you grow old and stuff. And then suddenly you say, God, I wish I had done that. Or I wish I’d [00:45:00] gone bike riding in Holland during tulip season or Safari or whatever or maybe just read a book that you’ve never thought about, it’s pick up Walt Whitman. I haven’t looked at a Walt Whitman book since I was a teenager. Maybe I’ll do that this afternoon.

so that’s what I encourage people to do is try to think about one thing that you have never done before at the end of the day 

Whatever that experiential thing is. This journey will end. I guarantee you. It will end, hopefully, we have a few years left to experience this great planet, but it’s going to end. And at the end of the time, you want to be able to have the memories that you create that are all encompassing.

Harry Cohen: I love that you shared that, Ira. I love that you offered that suggestion to stretch ourselves to learn something new. I’m going to do that and make my choices to be [00:46:00] the, what is the word of the Baal Shem Tov again?

Ira Rosen: Bearer of the good name.

Harry Cohen: I’m going to be the bearer of the good name. Thank you, Ira.

Ira Rosen: Sure. Thank you, for having me. 

Connie Fontaine: It was great to meet you.

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