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Paul Johnson’s Heroes: Lessons for Today's Leaders

Paul Johnson: Heroes
Paul Johnson’s Heroes is a pleasure to read. With his knack for illuminative details and command of the language, he has produced a series of short biographical essays that draw you through the book and leave you with a lot to think about. He notes that heroes have not always been appreciated and the status accorded them can be fleeting and arbitrary. By way of example he writes:
In the troubled times which followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars, caused by lower wages, unemployment and higher food prices, the term became abusive. When ever the Duke of Wellington made his appearance, a certain kind of London mob (there were many different kinds) would shout: “No heroes! We want no heroes!” For the self-conscious proletariat, the “Man on Horseback” was a political enemy. They threw stones through the windows of Apsley House, the duke’s London residence. He had the windows boarded up but refused to replace the glass, as a reminder to people of how volatile was popularity an dhow fickle the crowd, applauding him as a hero one moment, detesting him the next.
Consider too, Genghis Khan was “reviled for nearly a millennium as the archetypal mass murderer and rapist, despoiler, arsonist and ravager” yet “since the collapse of the Soviet empire in Central Asia, has become there a state-sponsored hero, especially in Azerbaijan and Mongolia.”

“No people in history were more in need of heroes than the Hebrews.” And so Johnson begins his examples with the judges Deborah, Judith and Sampson leading to their greatest hero, King David. Continuing on, his survey of heroes spans almost 3000 years of Western history and ranges from, Alexander and Julius Caesar, to the unlikely Mae West and Marilyn Monroe, to Lincoln and Churchill, to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. Here are some of his comments from the book:
  • Ronald Reagan: "I have never come across a person, certainly not in public life, who was so thoroughly and fundamentally at ease with himself."
  • George Washington: "The United States of America has been fortunate in many ways, especially in the magnificent endowment of nature. But not the least of its blessings was the man who first led it to victory, then made the new nation that emerged law-abiding, stable and prosperous, as well as free. This double achievement is without parallel in history."
  • Thomas More: "More has a lot to teach the twenty-first century. He had a curiously modern gift for words, and he articulated the culminating drama of his life -- the still, small voice of conscience defying an ideological despotism -- with stunning aptness, so that to us he resembles the hero of a contemporary morality play."
  • Robert E. Lee: "Lee was a true hero. He insisted on making possible for others the freedom of thought and action he sought for himself."
  • Abraham Lincoln: "He was a good man on a giant scale. He invariably did the right thing, however easily it might have been avoided. Of how many other great men might this be said?"
  • Emily Dickinson: "The best [of her poetry] is sublime, moving, unforgettable, magic, and the woman who produced it is undeniably, in her obstinate, tiresome, brave, unflinching, desperate and triumphant way, heroic."
  • Winston Churchill: "In the pursuit and enjoyment of power, he was always not merely careful but punctilious in observing the constitutional rules and respecting those persons and institutions charged with upholding them. This to my mind is the quality in Churchill which makes him so quintessentially the democratic hero."
  • Margaret Thatcher: "Thatcher was a good, kind and gentle creature, wonderfully considerate to her staff, always thinking of other people and doing things for them, unasked, and never cross if she got no thanks."
  • Pope John Paul II: "He had, it seemed to me, a strong sense of priorities, an unfailing ability to separate the essential from the peripheral, and to keep to the point, obliging others to do likewise. His intellect was burly, gripped hard and never relaxed until the job was done."
  • Modern Leaders: "The great majority of heads of government, in my experience, are hardened egoists, corrupted by exercising power even if not already corrupted by getting there. The few exceptions, like Harold Wilson or Willy Brandt, tend to be weak men."
  • Good government: "After nearly sixty years of writing history, and also of observing contemporary history makers in action, I am convinced that successful government depends less on intelligence and knowledge than on simplicity – that is, the ability to narrow aims to three or four important tasks which are possible, reasonable and communicable."
Johnson states that heroic behavior is to be found in every age and in all kinds of places. He asks, “How do we recognize the heroes and heroines of today?” He puts forth four principle identifiers we should take note of:

First, an absolute independence of mind, which springs from the ability to think everything through for yourself, and to treat whatever is the current consensus on any issue with skepticism.

Second, having made up your mind independently, the ability to act resolutely and consistently.

Third, to be able to ignore or reject everything the media throws at you, provided you remain convinced you are doing right.

And finally, to act with personal courage at all times, regardless of the consequences to yourself.

Who are your heroes?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:36 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Books , Leaders


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