the characters go through. It’s one thing to have a stories(hopefully good ones) but it’s another to pull the reader through the awkward and painful events that count far more than they should. And then there is the pounding senseless loss by forces that seem beyond any individual’s control. Why so much adversity? It is a challenge to the ‘feel good’ mantras of the day.
I attended a Stanford Executive Breakfast last year and Harvard Professor Cynthia Montgomery held up a Mexican ‘death skull’ and exhorted the audience to ‘contemplate death’. She was referring to the death of our business, our company, our livelihood. She then asked: if all the business cards were gone, buildings sold, and employees employed elsewhere—what would the legacy be? She pointed out that the answer to that question concentrated mind on the purpose and true strategy of the business.
I was more struck by the implications of ‘contemplating death’ at the individual level. One of my favorite non-fiction books is Edith Hamilton’s The Greek Way. If anyone ever sees JFK or RFK in old newsreels and gasps at the trenchant understanding of ‘the ancients’ it is almost a certainty they are quoting from this book. (It was designated ‘book of the month’ in 1957.) Edith poses that there is no such thing as modern tragedy which she defines as a ‘great soul suffering greatly’ as the hero sees their destiny and, unable to change it, still exhibits the reverence for both the dignity and significance of humanity. I think if we ‘contemplate our death’ we’ll see that Edith might be wrong. All of us will ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ as Shakespeare had Hamlet conclude. Whether we live to twenty or fifty or ninety, one thing is sure - no one gets out of this alive. So the only question is: what is it we’re betting our life on? Contemplate death. What will be our legacy? What is the meaning to our life?
I like sitting in a recliner, drinking a beer, and watching football on Sundays. No matter how much enjoyment I get out of a game; I’ve just traded three hours of irreplaceable lifespan for something that doesn’t leave one wit of lasting value. So we’ve come down to it. We have to choose what gives our life significance. We have to pick a road a bit bumpier than watching football in a recliner. We have to make our own grasp for meaning. It’s not that we should wring our hands that we can’t avoid death but rather gasp in awe that we can achieve so much with such a fragile, mortal life.
That’s what I’m attempting with the ‘Good Fight Series’: show that when you lay it out there, it’s not only hard but it also hurts. When you lay it out there for something of significance it will scare the hell out of you. It will break your heart. It will stomp your guts. Evil rivals will rise to challenge and discredit. And, even though it hurts, you will still smile in inestimable joy by understanding that the dignity and greatness of humanity transcends its mortal coil. In short, when you’re on a path to meaning, it’s supposed to hurt. We are great because we feel, because we suffer, because we chose the higher even though it may cost us our very lives.
I’ve been fortunate to see many great people live this example and I’m telling stories that demonstrate that our grasp for meaning and the intense feelings that accompany that grasp are the most important things we do even though they always come at a high cost.