Thursday, February 10, 2011

Get Up, Stand Up

Here's an inspired post from Dan Hull (who else?), suggesting that we - and, in particular, educated professionals - should stop wallowing in conformity, stop playing it safe in our thinking, renew our leadership and innovation roles in society. I've blocked and pasted it in its entirety. Even though the post is a little long, Dan's impatience with mediocrity is always refreshing and cogent:

Heroes, Leaders & True Grit: Anyone Out There Have Soul, Style and Sand?

Do "educated" Americans and other Westerners ever stand up anymore?

We live in an increasingly consensus-driven society--if you are a lawyer, or some other kind of professional or executive, it's more cookie-cutter than ever before. You get patted on the head for making your thoughts and actions risk-averse and business as usual. You are rewarded for being a Soulless Dork.

Who leads? Which execs? Which lawyers? Which doctors? Which humans who've acquired or been given valuable educations, experiences, things and gifts many others don't have?

Anglo-Irish, Angry and Brave. So now add this Clergyman and Satirist to our Cosmos of Heroes. He was a unique and rare gent. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), the author of Gulliver's Travels, was truly authentic, and maybe not quite as sick and strange as his contemporary critics thought; they saw him through the lens of the many illnesses that plagued his last decade and put him in a permanently bad mood. Certainly, he had no fair shake from any of us in the last century, when we all went nuts on Freud.

Sure, Swift could be abrasive. And hyper-aggressive. He made enemies, both literary and political. But he was influential. We still talk about and, when at our best, emulate the purity underneath his anger and sarcasm. He is of course the man who, in his pursuit of Irish causes, and fighting the alternating apathy and arrogance of the English, suggested that Ireland's poorest address their poverty by selling their children as food to the rich.

Those who knew Dean Swift were impressed that he put his ideas and notions of wrongs to be righted ahead of all of his many simultaneous careers. He put ideas and the plights of others ahead of his own comfort and popularity.

Big Moxie--it fueled Swift's desire for justice and his need to end the suffering of others--had a life-long hold on Swift.

Yet he was very much part of The Establishment of the England and Ireland of his time. In fact, a mainstay.

So who's brave these days?

Are Americans "stand up" people anymore? We live in a consensus society and, if you are a lawyer, or some other kind of Western "professional", it's perhaps even worse.

You get patted on the head for making your thoughts and actions risk-averse and business as usual. It's safe that way. You never need to lead. And you are actually rewarded for "it"--i.e., Flying the Colors of Sameness--in the short term.

Who apart from clever publicity hounds thinks on their own, acts, embraces unpopular but sound ideas about new practice models, and are not afraid of the consequences in our conservative, conformist and essentially tradition-for-tradition's sake calling?

Just pro bono work for the poor and disenfranchised? Bar association causes and events? The Rotary? Insular church groups? Work soup kitchens on Thanksgiving? An occasional letter to the editor? Chamber of Commerce membership for people who look and talk just like you?

Give us a break. Why don't you just put on little hat, play the banjo and do a self-congratulatory dance for co-workers, friends and neighbors?

Reach higher. For starters, what about the 24/7 primacy of the main event: everyday buyers, customers and clients as a focus which never changes? Doing your jobs with skill and pride. Never taking them for granted. Inspiring others with your passion.

What about real innovation? What about thinking and acting on your own--and away from the Change-Hating Mediocre Herd? Never Reading Self-Improvement or "Business Leadership" books? Why not use your "educations" and too-often stagnant minds to think, create, act and lead?

And be like Dean Swift? Substance. Soul. Style. Sand.

Who leads? Which execs? Which lawyers? Which doctors? Which humans who have been given things many others don't have?

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