ALWD . Jonathan Zeigler
Original Interview Date: March 2015 | Place: Village Coffee, Maplewood - NJ
WELL THOUGHT . Part 1 : What is the defining principle you attempt to live your life by?
Fundamentally do what is right, because it is right. That statement, initially my dad used to tell it to me as a kid. “Do what is right because it is right and not because others are watching.” To me it comes down to, having the ability to discern what is the right thing to do. And once you’ve taken time to discern what is appropriate, taking the ethical or moral guidance or step forward to actually follow through with what you know is necessary.
Part 2 : What key decision in your life would you define as the turning point or pivotal moment that brought you to your current state of success?
It was probably when I was sixteen. Actually it was a bad decision that brought me to that point. There was a time, where I spent too much time trying to fit in to what other people expected me to be or a very superficial standard of a relationship and connection. Long story short—I found myself in a situation where the outcome I lead myself to, could have undone all the work I have previously done. I actually went joyriding in my sister’s car. Got pulled over and I got lost. It was a terrible situation. Ultimately what that taught me, when I sat down with the officer, he was surprised that “I” was in that situation. While he never met me before, he was looking at my circumstances of what school, and the activities I was involved in and he couldn't really believe it. He asked me, “Why are you here?” and I really couldn't answer the question. I thought about that for a really long time and the standard I diminished myself to. After that point—the way I conducted myself in all avenues, shifted. I felt like I had a higher sense of accountability to my family because I felt like I let them down. When I went back to school, in terms of the military leadership there, it kind of shock their resolve in me. So, I worked that much harder to prove to myself, to others and primarily to my family, that I was still trying to build good character. That was my biggest shifting point.
WELL READ . What was the first book or books that were of a major influence to you?
I think there’s a couple of books that have been progressive in distinguishing my way of thinking. Ecclesiastics was one of the first book of the bible that I actually really focused on and really took the time to explore and think deeply on. From there, to the Autobiography of Malcolm X was one that really captivated my interest. Beyond that—Kahlil Gibran works. It’s a book, called Kahlil Gibran The Prophet. Its work of different pieces of poetry but its like a consistent story in terms of how they are put together. Those two, and also Ecclesiastics were the three books that really at different points influenced me. Actually, the autobiography of Ben Carson I think is really fitting because his story was fundamentally as a kid, he didn't consider himself intelligent, smart or really have much to contribute. I kind of felt the same way for a long time. I often wondered, while I knew that there were certain avenues that I had found success in, I really didn't consider myself to be well read or have really much to offer intellectually until I was a bit older. But then he had the same situation as a kid. As a kid, that story fascinated me. That's actually I think the first autobiography I read which brought me to Malcolm X.
WELL SPOKEN . What public figure over the past century do you most respect and admire?
In my mind, the first one that comes up is Kofi Annan. He's actually the Secretary General of the United Nations. As I started to study diplomacy, he was one of the big influencers and models that guided my focus internationally.
WELL GROOMED . What was the first thing you were taught as a young man about your appearance?
That probably goes back to military school too. Attention to detail with everything was always the primary concept I tried to adhere to.
Whatever you wear, whatever you put yourself in, should feel and look as if it was made for you. My clothes always had to fit by certain type of cut standards. The interesting thing was, on a campus where everyone wears the same thing and there’s no real notion of fashion, I actually sought out my sense of individuality by being the best groomed. Making sure you have the cleanest shave, best shoe shine, cleanest crease lines. It was all a product of what illustrated the kind of character you wanted to be despite the fact everyone was wearing fundamentally the exact same outfit.
WELL DRESSED . What persons, genre of music, or era have most influenced your personal style
My style has changed distinctively in different times. In terms of artist, I know Common was a big one throughout high school—pretty much a good progression of it. Common, Erykah Badu—I think the 90’s era Hip Hop was a big thing. Also Thelonious Monk and jazz influence has always intrigued me in terms of presentation and a general philosophy of life.