A Gunshot at Certainty

February 6, 2013

My dear friend Steve Singer was shot and murdered this week in Scottsdale, Arizona by a gunshot. Steve Singer was not one who sought fame, and yet his and his attorney’s deaths were the top stories this week in Arizona and on national news because of the timing of his death. Their deaths are newsworthy mainly because of their proximity to the legislative hearing on gun control and the 26 victims slaughtered in the recent Newtown school shootings. When I try to make sense of such a random act I come to no conclusion that is satisfying. Is it simply what Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, calls a Black Swan. “Black Swans are highly consequential but unlikely events that are easily explainable – but only in retrospect.

When I try to make sense of such a random act, I come to no conclusion that is satisfying. Just statistics. When you put 200 to 350 million guns into a population without stricter laws to regulate and register those weapons, you will have 30,000 deaths a year and one of them may be you or someone you love, regardless of the quality of life you have chosen to live. This week it was my buddy. 

Trying to Make the Uncertain Certain

We all seem to want both certainty and uncertainty. We want certainty as it relates to personal safety, health, financial security, and the pursuit of happiness. At the same time, we want to be involved in things that provide risk to make us feel alive. How else can you explain the risk you take when you go sky diving, race cars, climb mountains, or drink alcohol to excess? Some will even climb Everest even though they know a quarter of everyone who attempts perish. Steve Singer is one who knew the odds of certainty versus uncertainty very well. His loving dad, a professional card player, knows how to play the odds better than most of us and that skill or trait was passed on to his son Steve and onto his and Lisa’s kids in spades. 

Steve and I were competitors for many years and great friends; we would talk numbers and boy would he amaze me in each one of those discussions. As we aged, we would speak of our kids and he would amaze me with their gift of numbers. They took after their dad in that regard. Steve even understood the secret to happiness in numerical terms. He believed you simply needed to set your expectations at an achievable number. This translated to spending less than you have, living within your means, and putting your kids in really safe cars (with great crash ratings). You do this because you can make the uncertain a little more certain and really enjoy the hell out of life. And yet none of his math tables could ever imagine that such a warm, kind, generous man–who would go out of his way to make others feel good about who they were–would be shot in the prime of his life. Unless maybe Gabrielle Giffords or Newtown had gotten him thinking about the math: 200 to 350 million guns (largely unregulated) in a population of 400 million people.

You wake up every morning wanting to believe that the actuaries have it right–that you will live until age 78.2. You purchase insurance in case some damage comes to your property. You save money so that you can eliminate the risk of job loss. And if you want to ward off diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, you exercise six days a week vigorously. You do all these things to make the uncertain relatively certain. Steve did all of these things. Steve was an athlete. He was a ranked national amateur ski racer at 48 years old and ran mountain marathons in the desert. Whenever we met in Arizona, we went to Starbucks for a coffee then off for a hike or run together. He was always on me to get healthy. He pulled all my coaching tricks on me. He would make me set numeric goals with him and put them in his calendar. Sure enough, he would call me on those given days and say, “Well, Gar’, how we doing? You said you were going to be at 190 lbs by today…” Or he would say, “Have you been working out every day?” He did not do this for himself to feel good; he did it because he cared about me. He wanted me to live a long, happy, healthy life.

At the funeral, Steve’s son spoke about how often his dad asked him to go for a run and it was not until a week ago that he actually took him up on it. When he did, his son saw what I did–a big ole Steve Singer smile as broad and sparkly as Cary Grant (in my day). Steve’s son and I will be thinking of Steve’s smiles as we add miles to our totals, in our efforts to make the uncertain slightly more certain.

Reach your next peak

We help leaders expand the change they want to see in their teams, organizations, and the wider world.