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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

First and Foremost!

During the fight for the island of Iwo Jima in WWII, a group of Marines were first to raise a really big American flag on Mount Suribachi, and became famous. A bit earlier, another group of Marines were first to raise a really small American flag on the same spot, but did not become famous. It was just as well, as the former group to their bewilderment were feted as war heroes not because they were brave, but because they were first. Somehow heroism became equated with winning the game of king of the hill, except that as the soldiers knew, it wasn't a game.

Being first imputes qualities for an individual and his or her accomplishment that he/she may not possess. Indeed, first timers get Nobel prizes, adulation, and credibility. So if you were the second guy to fly over the Atlantic, land on the moon, or discover Uranus, you receive only anonymity for your achievement.

Being first is the emblem of the creative and adventurous mind, however your creativity won't be recognized until you are pinned with an affirming tin trinket bestowed by some blustering know it all, like the Wizard of Oz. But how do you get your just reward when the laurel wreaths have already been passed out? Simple. While there are only so many things you can be first at, you can still 'invent' new ones. So it's best to invent new categories where you can make the first and best impression. Thus, if you can't be first to fly across the Atlantic, why not try to be the first to kayak, balloon, or paddle backwards across? Like reinventing the wheel, just do things in a slightly different way to gain the same result, and you can be heralded as much as that unknown caveman who 10,000 years ago who came up with it. Better yet is to reinvent the description of an event, and thus gain creative laurels for redescribing the wheel. Social scientists are particularly good at this, and have coined a thousand categories to define that motivational lecture or conversation you just had with a family member. It may have the same effect no matter how you analyze it, but at least it gets the Freuds and Dr. Phils of the world the status of getting there first.

There are only so many ways you can counsel, motivate, or otherwise control the behavior of other people, and we have individually discovered on our own pretty much all of them, although we were not the first. Come to think of it, the fact that we generally ignore self help gurus speaks to the fact that when it comes to insights into human behavior, our common sense in sublime anonymity arrived there first.

1 comment:

Dr Jane Leary said...

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