If you haven’t yet seen Valkyrie, the Tom Cruise film about the best-known of the 15 or so plots to kill Adolf Hitler, I highly recommend that you purchase or rent the DVD.
One of the reasons filmmakers come up short when attempting to recreate true stories on celluloid is that they seem to believe subtlety is a virtue, which can make it difficult to follow the plot. I had no problem on that score with Valkyrie, but only because I had seen The History Channel’s recent documentary Valkyrie: The Plot to Kill Hitler.
What I especially liked about the documentary was the part that began where the film left off. After Col. Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) and his co-conspirators were captured and executed, The History Channel went on to discuss their posthumous evolution from traitors to heroes in thought-provoking detail.
Hitler, in his best propagandist mode, referred to the Valkyrie plotters as “a tiny clique of criminally stupid officers.” His denunciations were heard loud and clear throughout Germany. And if there’s one thing we know about human beings, most of them, sadly, tend to believe whatever those in power tell them.
Thus, for many years after their executions, the conspirators were viewed by the general public as traitors. However, as Germany settled into becoming a civilized society, it slowly came to grips with the monstrous crimes Hitler and the Nazis had committed. As a result, public sentiment about the plot shifted dramatically, and the men involved in it were increasingly viewed as heroes.
It’s too bad the movie left all this out, because there are several major messages here. First and foremost, whether one is a traitor (or “terrorist”) or a patriot (or hero) is very much determined by time and circumstances. Hitler had nearly a year to ingrain in the minds of his subjects the belief that von Stauffenberg and his cohorts were traitors of the worst kind.
So, to me, the most inspiring part of the Valkyrie story is that, in the end, truth prevailed. Hitler was reviled by the masses, and those who tried to overthrow him were (and are) looked upon as patriots and heroes.
Perhaps the Valkyrie conspirators were well versed in the life of Socrates. To the bitter end, Socrates never retracted his unpopular statements. And to the bitter end, the Valkyrie heroes never wavered in their determination to put an end to Hitler’s madness.
On a personal level, the Valkyrie story is yet another reminder that it’s much more important to be loyal to your principles than to be popular. Truth and popularity, in fact, are all too often at odds with one another.
In comparing his own life to that of Socrates, in his book The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton wrote:
“In conversations, my priority was to be liked, rather than to speak the truth. A desire to please led me to laugh at modest jokes like a parent on the opening night of a school play. With strangers, I adopted the servile manner of a concierge greeting wealthy clients in a hotel – salival enthusiasm born of a morbid, indiscriminate desire for affection. I did not publicly doubt ideas to which the majority was committed. I sought the approval of figures of authority and after encounters with them, worried at length whether they had thought me acceptable. When passing through customs or driving alongside police cars, I harboured a confused wish for the uniformed officials to think well of me.”
Sound familiar? It should. Because, to some extent, every one of us is guilty of not having the courage to reveal our true thoughts. In fact, none of us will ever totally rid ourselves of the sometimes overpowering need to be accepted. It is a psychic disability that is part of being human.
This is so even though we know, in our heart of hearts, that some of the biggest fools on the planet are popular. If we need reinforcement on this point, we need only turn on our television sets and listen to the babble of the many high-profile fools who grace our screens.
But what about compromise? Doesn’t a civilized society require compromise? For the most part, compromising on “details and strategy” can be beneficial if it helps equals to get past trivial issues. But when it comes to principles, Ayn Rand had it right: How do you compromise between good and evil? Between moral and immoral? Between freedom and slavery?
Which brings me back, once again, to the Valkyrie story. It reminded me just how important it is not to compromise one’s principles. Like everyone, I’ve had my share of people getting mad at me for something I’ve said (You should read some of my subscriber e-mails!), something I’ve done, or for refusing to do something they wanted me to do.
If this, too, sounds familiar, I’d like to pass along some advice from a centimillionaire friend who died about 25 years ago, one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. About a year before he passed away, he told me that when people become angry with you for your words or actions, and you know you’ve done nothing wrong, the solution is to look in the mirror and say to yourself: “If my hands are clean and my cause is just and my demands are reasonable, I have nothing to worry about.” Then simply go about your business.
Finally, I would remind you to keep things in perspective. Unless it involves the government, sticking to your principles with Socratic stubbornness is unlikely to result in your execution. Of course, in certain instances, it could cost you financially. But even then, the tradeoff is that your self-respect and self-esteem will skyrocket.
And those are things you can’t put a price tag on.
[Ed. Note: For a treasure chest of proven ideas, strategies, and techniques for increasing your income many times over, check out Robert Ringer's bestselling dealmaking audio series.
And be sure to sign up for his Voice of Sanity e-letter.]