“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
When author Malcolm Gladwell borrowed Pygmalion playwright George Bernard Shaw’s famous words for his own treatise on the often unseen undercurrents of power struggles, David and Goliath, he wasn’t necessarily referring to John Saraceno, Jr., a longtime Gladwell fan and Ridgewood Public Library volunteer and supporter.
Indeed, in its common usage, unreasonable is not a word anyone who knows John would use to describe him. But, as he himself says, “I love when people who are looking at something round can see different sides of it.”
In other words, John appreciates the unreasonable, persistent man, even the one who may at times look back at him in the mirror. Because that’s the person who “gets things done,” according to John.
So while he is far from lacking in good sense, John, like Gladwell, often takes the unconventional view. “I’ve always been somewhat of a contrarian,” he says.
To understand John’s motivations as a businessman and community leader, another Gladwell quote is useful: “Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from.”
The oldest of three brothers, John grew up in Staten Island’s New Dorp section. “The library was two blocks from our house. There was a soda shop nearby, and the main street was like what Ridgewood Avenue is today.”
A place that was open and accessible to all, that brought people likeminded or otherwise together—this was the library of John Saraceno’s youth. And this is the vision of equal opportunity and community he’s carried forward, as Trustee and past President of the Ridgewood Public Library Board, and through his bequest intent as a founding member of the Ridgewood Public Library Foundation’s Gertrude L. Pease Planned Giving Society.
“Our childhood library was a single story building with a room that was about 50×50, but we loved being there,” says John. When he became a student at Fordham University, where his two brothers eventually “followed him,” John considered the library to be “breathtaking” and much grander than the one he had known at home.
The library’s special role continued during John’s studies at New York Law School, where he met his eventual “and beautiful” wife, Lauren, not to mention the friend who years later encouraged him to join the Ridgewood Library Board. In fact, when the Saracenos relocated from their city roots, the library was among the attractive elements that the “citified” suburb of Ridgewood offered them and their three sons.
That’s right: three sons, just like John’s parents. And, like his father before him, John is driven by the entrepreneurial spirit. Things might come full circle for John, but it’s a circle with sides.
For, as vital to John as the library’s capacity, which he would like to see continue expanding, is its simplicity. John cherishes the library as a respite from being “always on the go,” spending his very occasional free weekend mornings “sitting in the Ridgewood Room of the Ridgewood Public Library reading the paper.”
“I’ve always been self-reflective, and I try to be a good listener,” says John, the Co-founder and Managing Principal of Onyx Equities, LLC. “I have a lot of people who work for me and a lot of responsibility that goes with it,” he explains, only later modestly mentioning his additional commitments as a coach for his sons’ teams and a volunteer for various organizations.
“When you get involved in things like the library, you have to be willing to take on things that others might find tedious and to be a self-starter,” John notes. “If the herd is running in one direction, I tend to run the other way. It’s not for everyone, but I like to challenge myself to do things that I thought I might never do, and if that motivates others to join me, even better.” Or, as Gladwell writes: “So much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine.”