Monday, February 1, 2010

The Penalty of Leadership

Thought this was worth posting again.

The Penalty of Leadership

In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership is vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition, the punishment fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work were merely mediocre, he will be left severely alone – if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass, or to slander you, unless your work is stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big world had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced, argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the riverbanks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy – but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as the human passions – envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains – the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or is great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live –lives.

Cadillac Motor Car Co. Detroit, Mich.
1914

5 comments:

oldpoetsoul said...

Whoever stands above the crowd does become a target--for good or bad, but I disagree with the end of this. Many worthy artists haven't been strong enough to withstand being a target--does this mean their art wasn't worthy, or that they weren't tough enough? I comment because I think a "penalty" of leadership is responsibility to those one leads. That which "deserves to live" doesn't always live, and many times the "unworthy" survives through sheer persistence (or access to better resources.)

4thBG said...

Genius is sometimes not recognized until much later, sometimes too late. I think the point behind this was that once the genius or greatness is recognized, then there is always someone out there to try to tear it down. Usually motivated out of jealously. And, there is always the exception to the rule where things that should not survive sometime do.

SharoniusThunk said...

So true... sadly, sadly true. I'd only seen quotes from this, not the entire passage. Thanks for sharing. This is a topic often discussed among peers and mentors alike... in ALL fields. The isolation, the "drama", the inability to ever please all and the certainty of the vast extremes in those who bother to give feedback of any sort... Mostly though the isolation. This puts that sense into a different perspective. thanks.

4thBG said...

Now that I am heading down the path of publishing a book, I do have a bit of fear regarding the potential isolation. However, I'd rather take the risk than live with the fear of thinking failure is certain. That fear leads to a worse condition of regret of not having tried.

Brookberry Girl said...

GO BO! If jealousy and envy are what will isolate us from others because of our successes, then let those who stand as barriers look unto themselves and label those nasty traits and become overcomers.
Isn't that what maturity is all about?