The man who saved Paramount from dissolution -- and then made it the top film studio in the world (from #7, "dead last"). The man who encouraged young hopefuls in the 1960's, who earned tearful thank you's throughout the 70's. Spent the next decade alone in his mansion, descending into personal darkness. Became listless, got into cocaine, hit financial catastrophes. He just happened to fall far enough and have influential friends reach to him enough that he got back on track, found an active place in the world of the 1990's.
His personal darkness intrigues me. It is both so dramatic & so common -- and, I want to believe, so avoidable...
Even mere distortions in the bonds of social connectedness can affect health. According to a study by J. Stephen Heisel of the Charles River Hospital in Boston, the activity of natural killer cells--the body's defenders from disease--is low for people who, on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Test, demonstrate depression, social withdrawal, guilt, low self esteem, pessimism and maladjustment. Those who withdraw have pulled away from the embrace of their fellows. Those with guilt are certain that their sins have marked them for social rejection. The maladjusted have failed to mesh with those around them. And those with low self-esteem are convinced that others have good reason to shun them. In the study, low natural killer cell activity wasn't linked to use of medication, alcohol, marijuana or recent medical treatment--just to measures of impaired social connection.
Meyer Friedman, the doctor who delineated the Type A and Type B personality and its relationship to heart disease, says, "If you don't think what you do is very important, and if you feel that if you died, nobody's going to mourn, you're asking for illness."
Finding himself necessary to the social organism had a similar impact on another warrior--Colonel T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. In the Middle East, Lawrence had been a dashing, energetic figure. He had dressed as an Arab, and worked hard to win the respect of tribal leaders. He had taught himself to jump nine feet onto the back of a camel, something few Arabs could accomplish. He had steeled himself to ride across the desert for days without food. He had stretched his limits until he'd gained an endurance far beyond that of the average desert dweller, and he was admired greatly for it.
At the same time, Lawrence convinced the British that he could successfully mobilize the Arab nomads into a unified fighting force. With that force, Lawrence argued, he could help defeat the Germans and Turks in the First World War. The success of his argument boosted his power. When he rode into a circle of bedouin tents, his camels frequently carried several million dollars worth of gold--a gift to cement his negotiations with the desert chieftains.
Using bribery and the force of his personal reputation, Lawrence drew together the widely-scattered Arab tribes to storm Akaba. His force took the city despite seemingly impossible odds, defeating a small Turkish army in the process. After riding the desert for days, and leading the charge in two suc- cessful battles, Lawrence was totally exhausted. Yet when he realized his troops in Akaba were starving, he mounted his camel and rode three days and three nights, covering 250 miles, eating and drinking on his camel's back, to reach the Gulf of Suez and summon help from a British ship.
The sense that he was critical to the success of the social organism had given the young British officer an almost unbelievable physical endurance. When at last the war was over, Lawrence rode into the city of Damascus in a Rolls Royce as one of the conquerors of the massive Turkish Empire.
But once the fighting ended and Lawrence was forced to pack his Arab robes away and return to England, he felt totally out of place. True, he had friends in high places--Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw, among others. But he felt wrenched from the social body into which he had welded himself. He was bereft of purpose--unneeded by the larger social beast. Lawrence went back to live in his parents' home. His mother said that the former war hero would come down to breakfast in the morning, and would still remain sitting at the table by lunchtime, staring vacantly at the same object that had occupied his gaze hours earlier, unmoving, unmotivated.
Eventually, at the age of 47, Lawrence died on a lonely country road, victim of a motorcycle accident. Or was he really the victim of something far more subtle?
Not long before his death, Lawrence wrote to Eric Kennington, "You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle me and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That's the feeling." Experts on suicide explain that vehicular accidents often occur to those who are depressed and courting death. Was it mere chance, then, that T.E. Lawrence, a man of almost superhuman physical skills, was killed by a bit of sloppy driving on a vehicle he had used for years? Or had the former leader of the Arabs' inner calculators come to the conclusion that, like the un-needed cell in a complex organism, it was time for him to simply slip away?
(Isolation: The Ultimate Poison, from The Lucifer Principle)
As social animals, we crave to feel we're doing something vital for the group.
What lets you feel most vital?