Karen Cortell Reisman (left) cherishes the letters that Albert Einstein (right) sent to her grandparents. Karen Cortell Reisman (left) cherishes the letters that Albert Einstein (right) sent to her grandparents. Karen Cortell Reisman (left) cherishes the letters that Albert Einstein (right) sent to her grandparents. (Photo: Courtesy)

Three lessons I learned from my cousin, Albert Einstein

Karen Cortell Reisman says her family connection to the world's favorite genius inspires her life today.

On a recent trip to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Karen Cortell Reisman was being stopped everywhere she went. People wanted to take a selfie with her. The reason? Her cousin was Albert Einstein.

"The only thing I inherited from Albert Einstein is his hair texture – the frizzy hair. I yearn for days of low humidity," she joked to From the Grapevine when we caught up with her on campus (and, yes, took a selfie with her). "It's a rich legacy that I'm very honored to have. I do also realize that it's just plain luck who you have on your family tree."

Reisman is a professional speaker and president of Speak for Yourself, a Dallas-based communications consulting company. She was at the university, home to the Albert Einstein Archives, to celebrate the 140th birthday of the world's favorite genius. "I cannot explain the theory of relativity," she said, "but I do have a relative's theory on Einstein's human side."

Einstein was particularly close with Reisman's grandmother, Lina, and would correspond with her often. More than six decades after Einstein's passing, it's these letters which give Reisman strength and guidance on how to lead her own life. We asked her to tell us three life lessons she's learned from her distant cousin, which you can read below. And, at the end, is a video of her explaining more about her Einstein connection.

Have perspective

More than sixty years after his passing, documents written by Albert Einstein are in more demand than ever. More than 60 years after his passing, Albert Einstein is still teaching us about life. (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

"His letters to my grandmother were filled with an update on their lives, an update on mutual friends, but he had a way of talking that was almost like a poet. And this particular sentence is that he says to Lina, 'About politics to be sure, I still get dutifully angry, but I do not bat with my wings anymore, I only ruffle my feathers.' And it's that quote that teaches me a lesson about perspective. When we are running around in our crazy, hectic lives, it's important to figure out when to bat with your wings, which means going full throttle, or when to just ruffle the feathers, when to sit back. Sometimes it's important to go full speed ahead. Sometimes it's wiser to sit back and observe, to think, strategize and mull over what you need to be doing. This is a great metaphor on how to handle the craziness that's in your life."


Have humor and humility

Albert Einstein's theory of relativity was presented 100 years ago this month, on Nov. 25, 1915. Albert Einstein knew how to laugh at himself. (Photo: Vlad Nikon / Shutterstock)

"He had a wonderful way of finding the humor, and being a bit self-deprecating about it by being humble. He knew he was a famous man. By the time I was born he was an icon. But he wrote a wonderful letter to my grandmother when she was downsizing to a smaller place. He says, 'I had heard that you are about to move your point of gravity of your existence somewhat more into our vicinity.' I mean, that's hilarious! He's making fun of himself. To me, that shows his humor, and it's a reminder, it's a lesson to me to A) find the humor, and B) don't take myself so seriously."


Have grace

Einstein (second from left) with Karen's grandparents, Lina (in white kerchief next to Einstein) and Julius (in the cap, next to Lina). Einstein (second from left) with Karen's grandparents, Lina (in white kerchief next to Einstein) and Julius (in the cap, next to Lina). (Photo: Courtesy Albert Einstein Archives / Hebrew University)

"He goes on to say, 'I now wish you from the bottom of my heart, quiet and more careless days in the smaller house. One does not jump, however so easily, out of deeply rooted habits, not even you.' And that takes me to my third lesson, which is grace. Grace can be defined in many ways. Grace means you're empathetic about the other person. Through these quotes, through these letters, I learned that he was empowering. I believe that was a huge lesson that I take with me in my business and in my personal world – just in terms of praising others, complimenting others. It makes us feel good and it makes the other person's day, and it's psychologically a smart thing to do to compliment and empower. He was able to find the merit and traits and positives in the other person. That is a great lesson."

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Three lessons I learned from my cousin, Albert Einstein
Karen Cortell Reisman says her family connection to the world's favorite genius inspires her life today.