We live in a country that celebrates ruthlessness, and the willingness to achieve regardless of the consequences of the people around us. Through our rugged individualism, but herd complex we often do not celebrate anyone for going astray from the group complex until they are victorious in their pursuit. Janna Malamud Smiths, in her book An Absorbing Errand, expresses, “Ruthlessness has two major domains of meaning when it comes to art-making, and the mercilessness of the artist is different depending on which one we consider. The first concerns the artist’s life; the second, his or her art. I’m not certain there is a clean separation between the two, but they are not interchangeable either.” I believe our terminology being tied up into war and capitalistic terminology aids our idea that ruthlessness is somehow virtuous. Celebrating those that are willing to step on the competition to get a leg up.
The second definition is moral and often necessary as artists are learning to balance the solitude necessary for mastery, and the opinions on our decision to devote all our time to art. Artists, regardless of all the myths, require communion to feed their art, and often the artist sacrifice every part of their life to be fully involved in creation. Canceling events with friends, making little time for love, or never picking us the phone to call is often a dangerous sacrifice, but the artist that is willing to sabotage others in the pursuit of his success has sacrificed his life the most. He has traded in his morality for wealth, power, and fame. There is a delay in the universe our actions often affect us long after they have been made; we have to constantly decide between ruth and ruthlessness when in pursuit of our dreams. Our survival, as artists and creatives, depends on our effort to balance empathy and focus; there are consequences to every decision we make.
Mistaking ruthlessness for courage people are celebrating those that come to power lacking empathy and compassion. Exploitation is far from courageous, but the working staking his job on calling out exploitation is courageous. Success requires courage, not ruthlessness; we all desire to be success in our pursuits, and sacrifices are often heralded as the epitome of the serious artists but we must balance our present circumstances, the people that love us, and the people we aim to become in order to sacrifice only the necessary impediments.
An absorbing errand is a wondering book that captures how our ideas of ruthlessness influence to artist to prioritize his craft over the people that love him. Through patience and mindfulness we can bring ourselves to embracing courage while being empathetic and caring to the people in our lives.