leadership hunting and Mark Twain

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In his book Roughing It, Mark Twain writes about his travels West when he was a young man. It’s a sad thing Twain is known mostly for Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer these days. Of all his many short stories and books these two are, oddly enough, the only two I actually dislike and find just about unreadable. Odd thing that. He’s a tremendous writer and immensely insightful about the deep psychology of humanity, only most folks never realize he writes a lot better without depending on dialect or stories about the goings on of mid-19th century boys. Anyway in one chapter of Roughing It Twain and everyone else around are struck by silver fever. They go off and find themselves a plot of land that might seem to have some silver in it.

Being ignorant Twain has in mind that the silver will just be lying around on the ground, able to be picked up by any fellow with a basket. He learns this isn’t the case when they arrive and there’s nothing but normal ground. An older gentleman, a veteran of gold and silver mining, shows them how to spot likely veins. So they go surveying and prospecting. Twain walks by a river in which he notices a glint in the water. It’s gold. He was ashamed he had set his sights so low as to think of silver, when there’s gold to be found. Excited over his new riches he picks up a piece and wanders back to camp.

“Gentleman,” said I, “I don’t say anything–I haven’t been around, you know, and of course don’t know anything–but all I ask of you is to cast your eye on that, for instance, and tell me what you think of it!” and I tossed my treasure before them.

There was an eager scramble for it, and a closing of heads together over it under the candlelight.

Then old Ballou said:
“Think of it? I think it is nothing but a lot of granite rubbish and nasty glittering mica that isn’t worth ten cents an acre!”

So vanished my dream. So melted my wealth away. So toppled my airy castle to the earth and left me stricken and forlorn.

Moralizing, I observed, then, that “all that glitters is not gold.”

Mr. Ballou said I could go further than that, and lay it up among my treasures of knowledge, that nothing that glitters is gold. So I learned then, once for all, that gold in its native state is but dull, unornamental stuff, and that only lowborn metals excite the admiration of the ignorant with an ostentatious glitter. However, like the rest of the world, I still go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of mica. Commonplace human nature cannot rise above that.

Yep. Commonplace human nature. Which I suppose is why God sent the Spirit to be among us, to help us rise out of the muck and mica.

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