Monday, February 23, 2015

Was Michael Jordan Like d'Annunzio, Beethoven and Mozart?

Recently, I was in a hotel on Michael Jordan's birthday and ESPN was running a tribute to the great basketball player. In one of the segments Matt Doherty, Jordan's former teammate at the University of North Carolina, implied that Jordan's greatness was inherited from birth and that no matter how hard another basketball player worked, he couldn't achieve Jordan's stature. Needless to say, I was infuriated by Doherty's comments, because Jordan became a great basketball player through hard work. 

But Doherty is no anomaly in this instance. It is common for commoners to believe that great people were born great. For example, Shenk relates in The Genius in All of Us that people believed that Beethoven and Mozart could see music when they were born. But "[i]n truth, their ability to "see" music came only after years of intensive work-and in Beethoven's case, after horrific abuse. 

Even in fiction great people have to work hard to do well. A protagonist in Nabokov's The Gift was a very hard worker and a focused writer who avoided wasting time:

He worked so feverishly, smoked so much and slept so little that the impression he produced was almost frightening: skinny, nervy, his gaze at once blear and piercing, his hands shaky, his speech jerky and distracted (on the other hand he never suffered from headache and naively boasted of this as a mark of a healthy mind). His capacity for work was monstrous, as was, for that matter, that of most Russian critics of the last century. To his secretary Studentski, a former seminarist from Saratov, he dictated a translation of Schlosser's history and in between, while the latter was taking it down, he himself would go on writing an article for The Contemporary or would read something, making notes in the margins.

And how about Gabriele d'Annunzio who was arguably the greatest Italian poet of all time? Here's an excerpt from Hughes-Hallet biography. It exemplifies how d'Annunzio was a hard worker even as an adolescent:

I was infuriated by Doherty's comments, because it gives the impression that greatness comes from birth and cannot be achieved through hard work, self-confidence, and self-efficacy or through charisma as Cabane summed up in The Charisma Myth.