A while back, I received an interesting e-mail from a subscriber that read:
“I am unsubscribing. I really enjoyed reading your letters, until you decided to bring your politics into it. I’m sorry, but I’m with the 70 percent of the country that disagrees with you. You are a very smart man and a gifted writer. I will take that with me. You can keep the rest.” — Greg H.
I was kind of perplexed as to why Greg expressed a high regard for my writing but opted to cancel because he didn’t like my politics. I wondered how long he had been reading me, because anyone familiar with my work knows that my ideological beliefs run through virtually everything I write — always have and always will. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I try to learn from every experience, whether it be positive or negative, and I certainly learned a lot from Greg’s e-mail. First, it reminded me once again just how rigidly divided we are as a society. When I use the word rigidly, I mean that not only are we divided in our thinking, we don’t even want to hear what the other side has to say.
’Twas not always so. When I was growing up, before the coming of the PC Monster, people actually engaged in civil dialog and had civil disagreements. Today, however, the objective is to silence those who don’t agree with your point of view.
The second important point I mined from Greg’s e-mail can be summed up in an old but all-too-true cliché: You can’t please everyone. The problem with trying to please all of the people all of the time is that it turns you into a big chunk of mush disguised as a human being. No one hates you, but no one loves you, either.
I’ve always felt that the saddest way to go through life would be to never even make a ripple. Whether it’s Barack Obama or Ted Cruz, Michael Moore or Bill O’Reilly, the Dalai Lama or Glenn Beck, all have one thing in common: Love them or hate them, they make ripples. In fact, they make very big ripples.
And so should you if you want to live life as opposed to just passing through on your way to the grave. When you get up every morning, the first thing you should do is ask yourself if you did anything yesterday to make a ripple. Even more important, ask yourself what you can do to make a ripple today.
All great achievements begin in the mind. Thinking about ripples leads to making ripples. Don’t fear being different. Don’t fear offending people who get their noses out of joint because they don’t like what you say or do. Don’t fear downside consequences to the point you can’t bring yourself to take action.
Above all, don’t fear making big ripples. Try to accomplish things that no one has accomplished before. Shock your competitors. Leapfrog over the pack.
The ever-quotable 17th century Jesuit priest Baltasar Gracian said it eloquently: “Have stomach for the large morsels of fortune. … Great accomplishments are built on great capacity. … There are many who cannot enjoy highly seasoned dishes because of their natural limitations, neither having been born to, or having been accustomed to, such high fare.”
I guess it’s true that some people simply don’t have the stomach to think big thoughts, let alone take big actions. The ultimate nightmare for such people is waking up some fine morning only to discover that they’re going in the opposite direction as the mainstream is headed.
To people with a lemming mentality, acceptance is more important than money, dignity, or purpose. Which is unfortunate, because success and the desire for acceptance are mutually exclusive objectives.
In my business, I’ve become convinced that the sooner a writer learns this, the sooner he is in a position to tap into his true genius. The great 20th century novelist E. B. White put it succinctly when he said, “The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.”
From time to time, a reader will call me to task for being too “touchy-feely” in some article I’ve written. And when I go back and reread the offending article, I usually end up agreeing with him. Touchy-feely doesn’t make ripples, but it doesn’t result in an avid readership, either.
So when ex-loyal reader Greg complains about my daring to show my “politics,” it sends a very different signal than a complaint about my being too touchy-feely. On the contrary, it tells me that I’m on the right track. Why? Because if you strive to be loved by everyone, you will end up being loved by no one.
Remember this well: Whatever your occupation, if you say or do something that gets half the population angry — or at last indignant — the other half is almost certain to love you. And guess what? You don’t need half the people in the world to love you in order to get everything you want in life. One-tenth of 1 percent will do just fine, thank you.