In June, former Israeli President Shimon Peres invited my son Asher, age 13, and my daughter Sasha, age 10, to his office at the Peres Peace Center to talk about his life and offer his special brand of wisdom.
He personally showed us around an office filled with images so reflective of him: the super-contemporary design of the building, a whimsical sculpture of a lion and a lamb, walls lined with books and an utterly spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea. And in the cadence of his unmistakable accent, he waxed lyrical about the past, present and future and provided this priceless advice:
1.Dream big. When my son Asher asked President Peres if he ever thought at its founding that Israel would become what it is today, a booming, free and stable nation, he answered both yes and no. The dream turned out both different and better than he expected — but he always believed in the dream. Had the founders of Israel not dreamed, there would have been no Israel. Peres remained an optimist about the prospects for peace because he had seen so many times the impossible become real. Most observers never dared imagine an Israeli peace treaty with Egypt or Jordan — and yet they happened.
2.Take risks. Peres's charm was legendary and he knew his audience well when he told our two tweens not to listen to their parents. "The mother can be a dictator," he cautioned them with a gleam in his eye. What he meant was that even those who have your best interests at heart can sometimes forestall important opportunities because they have a different view of what is wise. Peres's biggest achievements — from the decision to launch the raid on Entebbe to the opening of the Oslo peace talks — would never have been taken by a more cautious politician, one unwilling to put his own prestige on the line for the greater good.
3. Read – and read widely. Peres was a poet and the author of more than a dozen books on a variety of subjects. Not surprisingly, he told the children to read — and read widely. His intellect was legendary: He reportedly became fluent in English in a matter of weeks in order to better represent Israel in American negotiations. Peres was extremely informed and opinionated on all aspects of Israeli political, economic and cultural life and remained engaged in the affairs of the world until his last days. My daughter Sasha discussed the American election with him and he was as informed as any campaign reporter (we exhaled when he agreed with her strongly expressed analysis). Peres had views on technology, art and even a new Broadway play. "If I feel that I have to make a choice between being experienced and cynical or being curious and innocent," he remarked a few years ago, "I prefer the second."
4. Be inspiring. One thing that was clear from our meeting was that Peres cared very deeply about the future of his country and of the world. His rhetoric and actions tell us to be inspiring. Peres was a founder of his country — as a young intellectual aide to the first prime minister, he might be seen as Israel's Alexander Hamilton — rose to hold every key post in his nation's government: prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, finance minister, transportation minister. My daughter asked him whether he preferred being prime minister or president, a largely ceremonial role. Peres's response was surprising. "When I was prime minister no one wanted to do what I asked them," he explained. "As president they would do whatever I requested." Peres's effectiveness came entirely from his reputation for integrity and he used his inspirational leadership to appeal to the greater angels of his citizens' character.
5. Humility and generosity. Peres had risen in stature to become a true world statesman. And yet he not only took the time to meet with two children to share his wisdom, he continually extended the meeting as the conversation continued. When we finished, he unexpectedly hugged and kissed our children on the head in the manner of a loving, elderly relative. After he had talked to the kids about the incredible work he did to help Arabs and to foster development, my wife asked why he and his team did not publicize these stories. It was not about that, Peres explained. The good would come as the natural result of the deed. To seek attention would be counterproductive. (Don't tell Donald Trump.)
Shimon Peres's passing is a loss for the world. But the world is better for his having touched it. There is a sad irony in the closeness of his death to the U.S. presidential debate — an illustration of a leadership vacuum if ever there was one. But we can and must share his optimism. I am grateful for his lessons for leading a full life and for making the world a better place. And if we heed his advice, perhaps we can, indeed, make a better world.