The lesson of Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus is that a King can fall if he does not humbly accept and respect the necessary love of the people.

When a leader fails to acknowledge the ecstasy of those in need of protection and refuses to accept the process of governance, the unfortunate result is a turning of the people against the power that can topple a regime and its civilization.

Coriolanus, though a King, could never rise above being anything more than a savage warrior who treated those who adored him with a poisonous disdain and his inability to accept what he viewed as unreasonable affection led him down to betrayal, treason and into his own death.

The lesson of Coriolanus was echoed decades later by the genius American poet Robert Frost in 1950 when he was accepting an award at Columbia University. Frost whispered to his good friend — and fellow genius — Columbia Faculty member Mark Van Doren, that he didn’t think he deserved the award he was getting, but he felt it would be rude to go against the will of the people who wanted to honor and admire him.

Van Doren smiled, agreed, and introduced the great poet to a Columbia crowd who provided a thunderous standing ovation for Robert Frost. Mark Van Doren used that private discussion with Robert Frost to explain Coriolanus’ downfall in human terms his Shakespeare literary students could understand. The learning we must curry from Coriolanus and Robert Frost and Mark Van Doren is how we must all willingly accept praise and compliments from others without questioning intent or assuming there is a hidden purpose behind the kindness.

Too often we take any criticism to heart and make it hurt while yearning and admiration from others are too easily sloughed off as a falsity of character or as a masquerading snarky aside.

Be gracious in accepting the unconditional respect and professional admiration of those you may serve and you will, in turn, begin to soothe the percolating madding crowd who can easily turn love into hate in the snap of a tongue.

14 Comments

  1. Hi Carla!
    I have found it is difficult to be gracious in crisis and found it even more difficult to be gracious in adoration. It’s a tough lesson to learn because there are so few times for many of us when admiration is a part of the process of leading and learning and the initial instinct is to try to dissolve what feels like inappropriate affection. That affection is usually for the position of power and not necessarily for the person and that can be confusing if you don’t know what to expect from the process.