Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Best& Banting

 Mad Dog traveled 500 miles away from home to go to college,  at a time and in a century before cell phones and the internet. Long distance phone calls were expensive and if you wanted to communicate with mother, you wrote a letter.  Like many of his classmates, who came from all over the country, he discovered he was lonely and homesick, but he was surprised to find he was stronger than most of his classmates in one way: He was comfortable and not afraid to be alone.  

Some days, walking from the library to a late afternoon class, he realized he had not spoken to another human being for days.  He looked forward to class because he would  have contact with other people, but he did not need that interaction the way so many of his classmates did.  He could study alone, be alone, and he noticed his dorm mates could not tolerate isolation; they studied together, just to be in the same room; they walked to the cafeteria together; they had parties together and went out on double dates. They seemed afraid to be alone with themselves.

As Mad Dog progressed through training in later years, he found he could be alone on a ward and function without calling for help. He could apply himself to a problem and rely on his own internal resources to solve it.  He found himself, in a way, in a position of leadership because of this capacity--nurses looked to him, waiting for orders. And he felt comfortable giving those orders, not because he was superior, but because he had been prepared by others and then he was capable of sailing the ship without the help of others.

In the world of medicine, real leaders are self directed,  "inner directed" some academics call it.  Frederick Banting, the Canadian surgeon who pushed ahead, alone, convinced the pancreas contained some critical element, the thing which turned out to be insulin, was such a leader.  Alexander Yersin, pushed ahead to identify the causative bacillus of the black plaque, after being spurned by governmental authorities (Brits who had invested their hopes in a famous Japanese microbiologist,  who botched the job).  Thomas Edison worked for long stretches alone. Like Banting, he had capable and dedicated colleagues, but the cardinal feature of Banting, Yersin and Edison is they pushed ahead alone, undeterred by the opinions of others.

In American politics, the loner is not likely to be chosen as a leader. Lincoln, who some have called the loneliest of men, achieved his greatness by working with other men, by manipulating them, by persuading them but not by isolating himself, except at the times he needed to think through a problem; then he would isolate himself. 

Mad Dog wonders whether some of the intractable problems we face in government today arise because we have elected the wrong sort of men to lead us; we have  failed to appreciate the importance in leaders of the capacity to be self directed.  We have men like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell who raise their sails to catch the wind, whichever way it is blowing, rather than setting their own course, and steaming toward the star of their own choosing. They are men of compromise and complexity, but they are afraid to be alone with their own thoughts and decisions.  Mad Dog wonders whether or not it is this character flaw in our leaders which has hurt us as a nation.

Jimmy Carter is always held up as an example of the man who failed because he failed to involved other people; he was too much of a loner. But he had more flaws than that and but for a sandstorm in a desert, he might have been remembered far differently.

Apart from Mr. Obama, Mad Dog despairs of our leadership. There are some good men  and women, smart people  in Congress--Dick Durban, Chris van Hollen, Diane Feinstein--but they are swamped by the other variety. One has to fear for our fate, in the hands of the lemmings who lead us now. Start with the Republican majority in the House, add the Republicans in the Senate, not the least among them Kelly Ayotte, and look around and it's pretty bleak. 


No comments:

Post a Comment