By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 21, 2010
Last week’s post was great fun for me because of the generous, insightful and tremendously articulate Comments that came in. Thanks to everybody who took the time to write; I appreciate it and I’m sure everyone else does too.
When I first started Writing Wednesdays about a year ago, friends told me I would be surprised at how interactive the exchange would become. That’s starting to come true and I love it. If you haven’t glanced through last weeks’ Comments, a quick scroll will be well worth it.
What I enjoyed most about last week’s Coments, even beyond the content, was the tone of voice. Almost universally, the tone was peer-to-peer. Nobody was being snarky on the one hand, or overly diffident on the other. My own view of this forum and those who read it is that we’re all soldiers in the same trenches, fighting the same enemy (which is the Resistance and self-sabotage inside ourselves) and that we’re trying to help each other and psych each other up by sharing experiences and insights. So thanks again for the tremendously thoughtful and generous contributions. That’s what I was hoping Writing Wednesdays would be all about.
Two of most provocative Comments were about demonization, the opposite of iconization, from John Terry’s Mum–and self-iconization from Robert Burton Robinson. Talk about new forms of Resistance! Our cup runneth over.
If iconization is endowing others with powers or gifts that we ourselves possess but are afraid to claim or embrace, then demonization, its reflection, must be the projecting onto others (or groups of others) of those vices and character defects that we ourselves possess but insist on remaining in denial of. Surely we are living in the Age of Demonization. Someone should write a book about it? JT’s Mum?
Even more intriguing to me is the idea of self-iconization. Could this be the disease that brings down so many celebrities and scandal-busted politicians? If we make an icon of ourselves and then worship it, hmmmm … that doesn’t sound like a formula that the gods are going to be too happy with.
Quick, somebody start this T-shirt business!
But the most potent Comment on last week’s post, I think, was the one from Jon, remarking on T-shirts that say What Would X Do? Jon wrote:
I want a T-shirt that says “What Would I Do?”
Amen to that! “What Would I Do?” is, in my opinion, one of the hardest questions we can ask ourselves, if not the hardest. The object is authenticity. Self-realization. This is what each of us, as artists and entrepreneurs, is seeking—in our professional lives and hopefully our personal spheres as well. The pursuit of What Would I Do leads to non-iconization, non-demonization, non-self-iconization. Its object is the finding of our own voice, the realization of our own selves.
Iconization and emulation
Thinking about this stuff over the week, it occurs to me that iconization is the evil twin of something far more positive and benign: emulation.
Emulation is good. Emulation is the conscious incorporation into ourselves of virtues, skills and gifts that we perceive in others and wish to make our own.
When Bobby Jones, the great golfer of the 1920s, was a little boy growing up across the street from East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, he used to tramp around the fairways, following his hero, the local pro, Stewart Maiden. Young Bobby modeled his swing after Maiden’s. That’s not iconization, that’s emulation. It worked out pretty well for Mr. Jones.
I saw an interview with Kobe Bryant a couple of weeks ago, just after the Lakers won the NBA Championship. Kobe was asked to compare his stature, now that he had won five rings, to that of Michael Jordan. Bryant deflected the question with humility (which I admired), saying that 90% of the skills and moves that he possesses today he learned from studying MJ. So he didn’t see it as a competition; he was the student and Michael was the master.
Isn’t that what we all do? Students of painting copy Rembrandts and Vermeers. I myself used to laboriously type out page after page of Hemingway and Henry Miller, trying to figure out how they worked their magic. The rite of satsanga in the Eastern tradition believes we can elevate our consciousnesses and our souls simply by sitting in the presence of a master, without a word or a teaching being spoken by anyone.
The difference between emulation and iconization
The difference between emulation and iconization lies in the retaining or giving away of our personal power. When we emulate someone, we hang onto our power—and we remain conscious. We see clearly that our chosen mentor possesses skills or gifts that we don’t yet (usually because we’re a lot younger and haven’t had time to gain the experience that the master has), so we apprentice ourselves to him or her with the conscious intention of learning what he or she has to teach us.
Iconization, on the other hand, is unconscious. Resistance and fear have blinded and benumbed us to our own gifts and powers. We don’t believe we’re smart enough, brave enough, passionate enough to achieve our ambitions so we project those gifts onto another person and then worship that person.
The gods don’t like that. They want us to wake up, to face our fear of claiming the powers they gave us at birth. They want us to embrace our unique gifts, to become our best selves. As Rob commented (another great axiom), “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
Note to SJB: I’m as guilty as you are. I’d like to buy Marilyn Monroe’s house too.