is the most neglected of all the traits that make for success.
People try tenacity for a while, but then go on to other characteristics
that don’t impose such boredom. But tenacity is crucial.
said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and
looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
I was reminded
of this when I wrote recently about the abominable 1988 movie,
Last Temptation of Christ." The movie began with Jesus
as a carpenter in the cross-making trade. He is criticized for
adopting this occupation by his friend, Judas Iscariot.
This is the
equivalent of a movie in which David ben Gurion is working as
a station master who allocates trains to Auschwitz, with his friend
Adolph Eichman telling him that this is a really bad occupation.
Think of the movie reviews that such a movie would have generated.
Of course, the movie would never have been produced.
took a different approach for "The Last Temptation of Christ."
It was praised for its "enormous power" (New York
Times), its "visual rapture" (Los Angeles Times),
and its character as "deeply felt and ultimately faith-affirming"
(Good Morning America), and "genuinely reverent"
(Premier). Christian leaders hated it before it was released — they
had read at least excerpts from the novel — so the reviewers held
their noses and tried to find something positive to say about
it. Nobody wrote, "this is an entertaining film for the whole
family" or "it’s so good it makes you want to see it
twice." In short, it stunk, and they knew it stunk. It also
lost about $10 million, estimates the film industry monitor, Michael
Medved. It grossed a mere $7 million.
a boycott, and it got one. In Tyler, Texas, a few ministers told
local theater managers that they would recommend from the pulpit
that members boycott any theater for one year if it showed the
film. One local theater with two screens — the smallest theater
in town — decided to call their bluff. The movie came. Patrons
didn’t. About two years later, the theater closed its doors. The
building was leased by a women’s fashion shop and a butcher shop.
all quite positive. The problem is, this boycott constituted the
only sign of activism that a handful of the city’s churches were
able to muster in the two decades that I lived there.
FOR SELECTIVE MORAL OUTRAGE
the day that a local minister, or maybe an assistant minister,
showed up at the picket line in front of the local abortionist’s
clinic. It was a special gathering, so the picket line was longer
than normal. Most of the people in the line that day were charismatics
from a parachurch ministry located 15 miles up the road. The locals
could rarely rally that many troops.
We had never
seen this man before. He got in line, carried a sign, but left
before long. He made sure he told us all about the movie boycott.
He never showed up again.
He had been
entrepreneurial enough to identify local activists who might join
the boycott. At the same time, it was obvious from the beginning
that his interest in fighting abortion was relative only to that
boycott. A movie boycott was his (probably) once-per-career act
of social activism.
It was a
safe boycott. What fundamentalist pastor could get in trouble
with his congregation for opposing a sacrilegious movie? In contrast,
all of them risk trouble for coming out against abortion. "That’s
political! Besides, my niece got one two years ago, and she’s
the sweetest girl you can imagine." Actually, she’s a murderer.
went back up the road after their morning on the line for the
year. That left two Protestants to picket once a week for two
hours. I was one of them. There were two Roman Catholic laymen
who picketed in the morning, although I never learned how many
times a week. We kept up the picketing until the abortionist died
on the ski slopes of Colorado. His son, who inherited the practice,
decided to stop offering abortions.
decade of efforts had had no visible effect on the abortionist
or his clinic, but they had considerable effect on his son. He
was not prepared to face a handful of picketers for the remainder
of his career.
no way for us to have guessed that the target of our efforts would
die before retirement. There was no way for us to know what effect
we were having on his son. But the causes did produce effects.
The abortions ceased.
history, we find causes that produce effects in an unanticipated
way. Lincoln’s attainment of power in 1861 as a result of his
loss of the Senate race in 1858; Lenin’s capture of power in Russia
in 1917, having returned from exile as the result of World War
I and the Germans high command’s decision to send him in a sealed
train through Germany to Finland; Hitler’s attainment of power
in 1933, ten years after he was put in prison for treason, where
he wrote Mein Kampf, as a result of the great depression;
Franklin Roosevelt’s attainment of power, 13 years after he had
failed to win as a Vice Presidential candidate and 12 years after
he contracted polio (or possibly Guillain-Barre syndrome), as
a result of the great depression: all are examples of men who
stuck with it.
sports, few men attain sufficient fame or fortune by age 30 to
make themselves eligible for a footnote in a monograph, let alone
a chapter section in a history textbook. Alexander the Great did,
and this fact rankled Julius Caesar almost three centuries later
because of his own failure to make a name for himself on the battlefield.
In fact, it so rankled him that he wrote his book on the Gallic
wars, which young students of Latin were assigned for hundreds
the career of Walter Rothschild, to whom Arthur Balfour addressed
his famous letter, "Dear Lord Rothschild," the letter
that announced what became known as the Balfour Declaration (Nov.
much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s
Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish
Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved
by, the Cabinet.
Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine
of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their
best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object,
it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which
may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish
communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status
enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge
of the Zionist Federation.
Arthur James Balfour
a little over three decades later, was the establishment of the
State of Israel.
to be fame enough for any man, but Walter Rothschild is not famous
because of Balfour’s letter. He is famous because of smaller things — millions
At the age
of seven, in 1875, he told his parents, "I am going to make
a museum." A year later, he began his butterfly collection.
It grew. In
1892, he opened his private museum to the public. That was only
accumulated at the Museum so rapidly that Lord Rothschild and
his curators, Ernst Hartert and Karl Jordan, began to issue
the Museum’s own scientific journal, Novitates Zoologicae, in
1894. Over the course of 45 years they published more than 1,700
scientific books and papers, and described more than 5,000 new
species of animals. Many of these publications can still be
found in the Museum library today. The library is considered
to be one of the finest ornithological libraries in the world.
Augmented by The Natural History Museum’s ornithological collection,
it contains many of Rothschild’s own monographs, along with
books by John Gould and Edward Lear.
time Lord Rothschild died his collections included some 2,000
mounted mammals and a similar number of mounted birds, along
with two million butterflies and moths, 300,000 bird skins,
144 giant tortoises, 200,000 birds’ eggs and 30,000 relevant
books. He selected the finest specimens for display and made
sure they were prepared by experts. As a result many of the
specimens on display today are outstanding examples of nineteenth-century
taxidermy at its very best and every attempt has been made to
preserve the character and general arrangement of Lord Rothschild’s
At one time,
he had 400 collectors in the field, and the entire world was his
field. He was always in debt, despite his status as a Rothschild.
He knew what
he wanted to do. Then he did it. No private citizen has come close
to matching him, although his niece, Miriam, did collect 60,000
fleas, and became one of the world’s experts on the subject, gaining
membership to the elite Royal Society as a result.
He put his
money to the service of his dream. It was a lot of money. He put
his time there, too. He cared not a whit for banking. There is
no evidence that he ever put together one financial deal. Butterflies,
however. . . .
pursuit of anything is a key to success in the field. Brains help.
Money helps. Knowing the right sorts of people helps. But without
single-minded pursuit, everything else gets sidetracked.
I tell high
school students: first, assess your skills. Second, select a goal
for which you have a competitive advantage. Third, count the cost
of achieving pre-eminence in this field. Fourth, begin to specialize.
Fifth, find an expert who will teach you, based on your initial
performance. Sixth, select a group whom you will serve with this
output. Seventh, select a different group whose assessment of
your output will be crucial for success in the field. Eighth,
gain the trust of the group you wish to serve by way of your preliminary,
low-level service. Ninth, and by far the most important, show
up on time every time. No one else will do this unless he is trying
to pick off your targeted group for his cause. Outlast him.
pays off. It harnesses the power of compound interest. When you
think "compound interest," think "Rothschild."
When you visualize the results, think "butterflies."
from Arthur Balfour may also come to mind.