Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reality of Success

...most politicians are drawn to public life by the personal satisfaction of fame and adulation: some of the greatest men and women in history have struggled with inner demons that motivated their ambitions. Personal aspirations, however, can make for problems when they are incompatible with ethical public standards; it is usually the latter that suffer. The careers of both Nixon and Kissinger reflect the extent to which great accomplishments and public wrongdoing can spring from inner lives.
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 34.
What motivates our leadership, ambition, and aspirations? The stories of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger are highly fascinating if for nothing else that they showcase a pair of people who's inner struggles were revealed on the highest of levels. Their drive for success and power pushed both of them to reveal the shadier parts of themselves. And perhaps unfortunately, no matter what accomplishments they might have made - the dark stains are all we remember.

The difficulty with studying somebody like Richard Nixon is that if we are honest with ourselves, we know that our own inner demons often motivate what we strive and aim to do in our lives. We might deceive ourselves and others that what we desire is good for everyone...but the reality is we too would bend our own ethical standards for the the shot at achieving that which our hearts most desire. What we are left with is great accomplishment with heavy sacrifice. Our careers, accomplishments, and accolades look impressive but the trailing wake reveals broken marriages, neglected kids, damaged colleagues, and an ethical record that is so variant that it is hard to determine where we stand in life.

What's the cost? At what point do we realize that while we might be succeeding in the ways that get us a pat on the back - we are actually failing as people? That line is so often blurred in history that it has hard to determine if those we admire the most are also those we should pity the most.