During 23 years of teaching world literature at two boarding schools in New England and then at a community college in Dallas, I always included in each year’s curriculum at least one novel, a play and a few short stories that focus on Puritanism in one form or another.
For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or The House of the Seven Gables and Young Goodman Brown as well as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. To help students understand the Puritans’ core convictions, I devised an acronym, TULIP:
Total depravity of man (i.e. original sin)
Utter sovereignty of God (i.e. omnipotent)
Limited atonement (i.e. only a few will become “at one” with God)
Infant damnation (i.e. salvation cannot be earned)
Perseverance of the saints (i.e. those who are “saved” have power and wealth)
Here’s an interesting historical footnote. John Hathorne (1641-1717) was among the judges who presided at the Salem witch trials and the only one of them who never repented for the executions of innocent people. Hathorne was the great-great grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) who was so ashamed of that relationship that he changed his last name when enrolling at Bowdoin College.
In business and especially in the military services, acronyms are widely (and sometimes unwisely) used. The fact remains, however, that they can have a value if used sparingly within an appropriate context.
In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
There are so many worthy of consideration. My own preferences include Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Sophocles’ “Oedipus Trilogy” (especially Antigone) and then Shakespeare’s four mature tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear) and at least one of the history plays, probably Henry V. More recent works would include Melville’s Moby Dick and Billy Budd. I also very much admire Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, and Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the protagonists (i.e. John Proctor and Atticus Finch) refuse, in a moral crisis, to preserve their neutrality.
Here are a few lessons I have learned from works such as these:
1. The most intriguing fictional characters tend to be evil (e.g. Iago in Othello, the archetypical “toxic follower,” and Goneril and Regan in King Lear) whereas the leaders with which we can more easily identify are those they prey upon (e.g. Othello and Lear), trusting but somewhat naive. Others such as Oedipus and Ahab are their own worst enemy. Lesson: Literature’s greatest leaders are tragic figures. Why are they destroyed?
2. In King Lear, Gloucester observes, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport.” Almost all of literature’s greatest leaders are tragic, destroyed because of their hubris. Lesson: Jim Collins is right when suggesting that pride and arrogance are “kryptonite” for many (too many) corporate executives. Although they may seem to self-destruct, there is a pattern of defiance of values that precedes and ensures their “fall.”
3. As the brief reference to The Crucible and To Kill a Mockingbird suggests, great leaders in fiction have a moral compass, what Bill George characterizes as a “True North,” that (like a GPS) guides and informs their decisions; it also sustains their credibility among others involved in the given enterprise. Lesson: People will not voluntarily follow those whom they do not respect and trust.
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob