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For the Greater Good

An artist friend and I had a long talk a while back about the types of people that make up the human race.

According to him, most people fall into one of two camps: the leaders and the followers.

“Then there’s this fringe element,” he said. “You know, the gonzos, the folks that never really feel like they fit in anywhere. They wouldn’t consider themselves leaders in a million years, but they’re way too individualistic to consent to anything that looked like following, either.”

These, he says, are the artists—the thinkers, the writers, the painters, storytellers, musicians, scientists, what-have-you; the ones who observe and articulate the human condition from what often feels like the outside.

These are the ones whose notes and colors and theories and words seep into the busy lives of the leaders and the followers, influencing them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. They pour courage and insight into the human race; they affirm what matters most; they expose the lunacies of the particular generation they happen to inhabit, and they expend superhuman energy interpreting things—important things, true things, culture-shaping things—which the leaders and followers then experience and are eventually affected by.

“It’s the fringe element that changes the world,” he told me. “If they’re brave enough.”

I mentioned the excruciating sensitivity required of these interpreters, the curse of such harrowing insight into what it means to be alive—which comes coupled with the wonder and joy and sublimity of…being alive.

“It must hurt them terribly,” I said. “All that knowing and making known. It must feel like pouring out their hearts’ blood, over and over and over again. And the fringe element rarely sees the real fruit of their labors.”

“Maybe,” my friend posed thoughtfully, “maybe they,” and the look he gave me said we, “are meant to take that fall for the rest of humanity.

Almost like a martyrdom for the greater good.”

His words have haunted me ever since.

What do y’all think?


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