Al Wilson gives no one his cell phone number.
“When I’m in my car by myself, I don’t want people calling me,” he says. “I like time to think.
“People in society are so busy. Sometimes I wish people would just set apart an hour to say, “Why am I here? What’s the purpose of my life?”
It is in silence that we reflect on what is good and right, he says, adding for example, that a leader must live by putting the interests of those who follow him first. He must be honest and do what it is right. He must possess integrity and love. “Character,” he says, “is crucial.”
It is why Al Wilson recently gave MIT $100,000 to support the Technology and Culture Forum, a 40-year-old lecture series that examines the moral and ethical implications of science and technology. More than a dozen lectures are held each year, including recent discussions of online freedom and privacy, the politics and technology of motherhood, and freedom of choice regarding stem cell research and cloning.
“Soon MIT students will be the leaders of the world. If they don’t have an ethical foundation, they’ll lose sight of the real values. We must educate responsible citizens who make wise decisions. We’re here to better the world for others.”
Al Wilson graduated from MIT in 1938 with a degree in management, then joined his Dad’s steel manufacturing company in Cambridge, where for five decades he served as chief engineer, president, then chairman of the board. He now runs Wilson-Cambridge Realty Trust, a real estate development firm.
“Integrity is a quality that is diminishing in our lives and culture as we get so busy we don’t have time to reflect on it. But technology can be dangerous without an ethical foundation. It’s fun to solve problems, but we should not solve them as an end in itself. We must solve problems for the good of all people.
“If you live your life to make the world better for others, you will have a better life yourself. Just keep this in mind.”