Do You Have to Be a Jerk to Be Great?

Navigating the tension between work and relationships.

Soren Kierkegaard asked God to give him the power to will one thing. Amid all the distractions of life he asked for the power to live a focused life, wholeheartedly, toward a single point.

And we’ve all known geniuses and others who have practiced a secular version of this. They have found their talent and specialty. They focus monomaniacally upon it. They put in the 10,000 hours (and more) that true excellence requires.

I just read “You Must Change Your Life,” Rachel Corbett’s joint biography of the sculptor Auguste Rodin and his protégé, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and they were certainly versions of this type.

The elder Rodin had one lesson for the young Rilke. “Travailler, toujours travailler.” Work, always work.

This is the heroic vision of the artist. He renounces earthly and domestic pleasures and throws himself into his craft. Only through total dedication can you really see deeply and produce art.

In his studio, Rodin could be feverishly obsessed, oblivious to all around him. “He abided by his own code, and no one else’s standards could measure him,” Corbett writes. “He contained within himself his own universe, which Rilke decided was more valuable than living in a world of others’ making.”

Rilke had the same solitary focus. With the bohemian revelry of turn-of-the-century Paris all around him, Rilke was alone writing in his room. He didn’t drink or dance. He celebrated love, but as a general outlook and not as something you gave to any one person or place.

Both men produced masterworks that millions have treasured. But readers finish Corbett’s book feeling that both men had misspent their lives.

They were both horrid to their wives and children. Rodin grew pathetically creepy, needy and lonely. Rilke didn’t go back home as his father was dying, nor allow his wife and child to be with him as he died. Both men lived most of their lives without intimate care.

Their lives raise the question: Do you have to be so obsessively focused to be great? The traditional masculine answer is yes. But probably the right answer is no.

In the first place, being monomaniacal may not even be good for your work. Another book on my summer reading list was “Range,” by David Epstein. It’s a powerful argument that generalists perform better than specialists.

The people who achieve excellence tend to have one foot outside their main world. “Compared to other scientists, Nobel laureates are at least 22 times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician or other type of performer,” Epstein writes.

He shows the same pattern in domain after domain: People who specialize in one thing succeed early, but then they slide back to mediocrity as their minds rigidify.

Children who explore many instruments when they are young end up as more skilled musicians than the ones who are locked into just one. People who transition between multiple careers when they are young end up ahead over time because they can take knowledge in one domain and apply it to another.

A tech entrepreneur who is 50 is twice as likely to start a superstar company than one who is 30, because he or she has a broader range of experience. A survey of the fastest-growing tech start-ups found that the average age of the founder was 45.

For most people, creativity is precisely the ability to pursue multiple interests at once, and then bring them together in new ways. “Without contraries is no progression,” William Blake wrote.

Furthermore, living a great life is more important than producing great work. A life devoted to one thing is a stunted life, while a pluralistic life is an abundant one. This is a truth feminism has brought into the culture. Women have rarely been able to live as monads. They were generally compelled to switch, hour by hour, between different domains and roles: home, work, market, the neighborhood.

A better definition of success is living within the tension of multiple commitments and trying to make them mutually enhancing. The shape of this success is a pentagram — the five-pointed star. You have your five big passions in life — say,

  1. family,
  2. vocation,
  3. friends,
  4. community,
  5. faith —

and live flexibly within the gravitational pull of each.

You join communities that are different from one another. You gain wisdom by entering into different kinds of consciousness. You find freedom at the borderlands between your communities.

Over the past month, while reading these books, I attended four conferences. Two were very progressive, with almost no conservatives. The other two were very conservative, with almost no progressives. Each of the worlds was so hermetically sealed I found that I couldn’t even describe one world to members of the other. It would have been like trying to describe bicycles to a fish.

I was reading about how rich the pluralistic life is, and how stifling a homogeneous life is. And I was realizing that while we’re learning to preach gospel of openness and diversity, we’re mostly not living it. In the realm of public life, many live as monads, within the small circles of one specialty, one code, no greatness.

Paul’s Inspired Teachings on Marriage

Students of the New Testament frequently raise the question as to whether or not Paul was ever married. From the viewpoint of modern Latter-day Saints who understand that marriage and family are central to God’s plan of happiness, it seems logical to conclude that one who was called as a special witness of Christ (see Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 9:1; Galatians 1:1) would have lived in accordance with all of the gospel law and hence would have been married at some point. But from the New Testament record itself is there evidence that would support that conclusion? Yes. Let me suggest four compelling evidences.

First, Paul came from a Judaic background (see Acts 21:39; Romans 11:1) wherein marriage was viewed, traditionally, as a religious duty of utmost importance. According to an early delineation of the 613 precepts contained in the law of Moses, marriage was listed as the first. Customarily, Jewish men and women married between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, although some were as young as fourteen. It is likely that Paul would have wanted to comply with the traditional religious expectation of marriage. [2]

Second, Paul was a Pharisee (see Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5), one of the strictest bodies of Judaism (see Acts 26:5), and prided himself in being a devout adherent to all of Jewish law. Tutored “at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers,” Paul became, by his own admission, “zealous toward God” (Acts 22:3). In fact, Paul described himself as even “more exceedingly zealous” in fulfilling the requirements of the law than were his peers (Galatians 1:14). It seems plausible that Paul’s zealous determination to strictly obey the totality of the law would have extended to marriage. If Paul “lived unmarried as a Jerusalem Pharisee,” noted Frederic Farrar, “his case was entirely exceptional.” [3]

The Apostle Paul on Marriage and Singleness

Paul in particular doesn’t pull any punches in this regard: “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: it is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (I Corinthians 7:8, 9). The practical application seems plain: if you’re single and aren’t convinced that you have a clear calling to the celibate life, you should be thinking seriously about exploring the option of marriage.

.. We understand that singleness can be a good thing in many situations and for a number of different reasons. But we still believe that it’s the exception to the rule. This is the assumption underlying Paul’s entire discussion of the subject in I Corinthians 7. In this passage the apostle is careful to distinguish between commandments from the Lord and pronouncements based upon his own opinion (see vv. 8, 10, 12, 25). He also makes it clear that his ideas about the advantages of the single life are largely a response to the practical necessities of the immediate historical situation (i.e., persecution and hardship-see v. 26). Whatever else he may be saying, he is certainly not arguing that singleness is the “standard” for human life.

James Mattis: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy

This overwhelming support goes beyond enthusiasm for his record of military competence. His sometimes shocking public statements and quiet triumphs point to both an extraordinary level of compassion and the capacity for ferocious lethality.

.. Mattis chose a path in life that has brought him repeatedly into mortal combat with the most barbaric evil of our time, Islamist terrorism. Yet he continues to defeat it with insight, humor, fighting courage, and fierce compassion not only for his fellow Marines who volunteer to follow him through hell’s front door but also for the innocent victims of war. He encouraged his beloved Marines in Iraq with this advice: “Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

.. Robert H. Scales, a retired United States Army major general, described him as “one of the most urbane and polished men I have known.” Mattis’s personal library of more than 7,000 books — including many obscure, scholarly titles — is as famous as his habit of carrying a personal copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius with him into battle.

.. People perhaps mistake his ferocious aggression for a lack of discipline. Anyone who has served with him will tell you just the opposite: As a field commander, he maintains strict discipline, even sleep discipline, continually striving for “brilliance in the basics.”

.. His competence and level-headedness are so trusted that the president of the United States has given him essentially a free hand to fight America’s wars as he sees fit. Characteristically, in announcing the change of policy toward ISIS from one of “attrition” to “annihilation,”

.. The Art of War, a recently translated treatise dating from the fifth century b.c., by Sun-Tzu, a legendary Chinese general. The emphasis on duality in Sun-Tzu’s philosophy, the yin and yang of war, coincided with Mattis’s deep appreciation for the ebb and flow of the natural world and human interaction. Sun-Tzu’s concept of “winning hearts and minds” was a natural fit for Mattis and would serve him well in the wars to come in the East.

.. This human aftermath of the American military retreat from Vietnam and resulting political instability crowded every available inch of deck space around Mattis. Refugees filled the sweaty hold of the ship, clutching their children and meager possessions and often shaking with fear and trauma. This was Mattis’s first real-world experience of war as a Marine. As the Navy’s ground troops — the first in and often the last out of smaller, Third World conflicts — Marines frequently end up with the responsibility for evacuation of war victims. Compassion is a necessary part of an officer’s training, and Mattis’s was put to the test as he shared overheated sleeping spaces, food, and few toilets, often for days on end, with successive swarms of desperate, frequently ill people who didn’t speak English.

.. A few days before departure, Alice suddenly realizes that as a Marine’s wife, she will move frequently to different parts of the world and will face the constant threat of having officers knocking on her door one day in full dress uniform to deliver the worst possible news. As much as she respects the sacrifices that Marines make, she is not prepared to do the same. She insists that Mattis resign, that he choose her or the Corps — he cannot have both.

.. “Y’know, Dave, the privilege of command is command. You don’t get a bigger tent.”

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450464/james-mattis-no-better-friend-no-worse-enemy?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20170819%20Weekend%20Jolt&utm_term=Jolt

.. He will never marry. Instead, he will devote himself to his adopted family of Marines.

.. Mattis told Krulak that the young officer who was scheduled to have duty on Christmas Day had a family, and he had decided it was better for the young officer to spend Christmas Day with his family. So he chose to have duty on Christmas Day in his place.

What Does It Really Mean to Be ‘Single’?

There needs to be more nuanced language to describe the expanding demographic of unmarried Americans.

.. When it came to the group of adults who remained single by choice, 80 percent of the survey’s respondents—reflecting the language used by the survey’s authors—said they believed that the singletons remained so because they must be “immoral,” “sick,” or “neurotic.”

.. When it came to the group of adults who remained single by choice, 80 percent of the survey’s respondents—reflecting the language used by the survey’s authors—said they believed that the singletons remained so because they must be “immoral,” “sick,” or “neurotic.”

Laid-Off Americans, Required to Zip Lips on Way Out, Grow Bolder

Leading members of Congress from both major parties have questioned the nondisparagement agreements, which are commonly used by corporations but can prohibit ousted workers from raising complaints about what they see as a misuse of temporary visas. Lawmakers, including Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-highest-ranking Senate Democrat, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, have proposed revisions to visa laws to include measures allowing former employees to contest their layoffs.

.. Lawyers said the paragraph Mr. Peña and other workers object to in their separation agreements is routine in final contracts with employees who are paid severance as they leave, whether they were laid off or resigned voluntarily.

“It’s a very, very common practice,” said Sheena R. Hamilton, an employment lawyer at Dowd Bennett in St. Louis who represents companies in workplace cases. “I’ve never recommended a settlement that didn’t have a clause like that.”

.. With a disabled child who requires medical care, he said he had to take his severance and its nondisparagement clause, since it extended his medical benefits. So he asked to remain anonymous.

.. In a forceful reply, the Eversource general counsel, Gregory B. Butler, said the company had not violated any laws, and its nondisparagement provisions were a “standard form release” that did not restrict former employees from discussing their layoffs “with you or anyone else.”

.. According to a copy of the agreement, that clause read, in part: “You agree to make every effort to maintain and protect the reputation of Abbott and its products and agents.”

.. Mr. Peña said he could afford to turn down his severance payment because he is single and has no children. “I was the only one with the ability to put my foot down,” he said.

He received consistently positive work reviews, and a merit raise weeks before his layoff, he said. With no indication that poor performance was a factor, he believed it was a measure to cut costs.

Through their networks of friends, singles are strengthening society’s social bonds.

In every measure, single people as a group spend more time connecting with and helping others than their married counterparts. Singles are more likely to do the same for their parents and siblings. They also devote more time and resources to caring for aging relatives or friends who are sick, disabled, or elderly. These differences hold for people who have young children and those who don’t. They’re true for men and women, whites and non-whites, the rich and the poor, and the employed and the jobless.

.. In cities and towns, single people are cultivators of urban culture. Compared to married folk, they participate in more civic groups and public events. They go out to dinner more often and take more music and art classes.6 In studies that surveyed only men, bachelors were more likely than husbands to take part in professional societies, unions, and farm organizations. Single men also tend to be more generous with their money.7

.. Those who stayed single kept in touch with friends and relatives. Those who wedded or entered into a cohabiting relationship, meanwhile, became more insular. They had less contact with their parents and siblings, and spent less time with friends than when they were single.

.. In five of six countries for which data were available (Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.), researchers found that elderly women (but not men) who never married and have no children are especially likely to have expansive support networks.9 In that study, Australia was the exception. But in another study of 73- to 78-year-old Australians, never-married childless women regularly participated in social groups and were more likely to volunteer than those who were or had previously been married.10

.. Today’s couples often have separate phones, computers, and online accounts. Although their social networks may overlap, they are unique.

.. British sociologists Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl describe an especially intense form of traditional family living they call the “partner-based personal community.” A coupled person’s partner, they write, “is the focal point of the person’s social world, acting as confidant, provider of emotional and practical support, and constant companion.” Spencer and Pahl have found that, when compared with those who let more people into their inner circles, partner-based couplers have poorer mental health. Other research suggests that people who rely on multiple friends and family members for emotional support (cheering up, celebrating, commiserating) are more satisfied with their lives than people who lean on just one person.13