What if the Opposite of Hitler… was You?
The Hills are Alive… with the Anti-Hitler.
Thanks for this interesting thought exercise, Tim Sears.
The question was posed, what is the opposite of Hitler?
Here’s my shot.
In order to determine the opposite of Hitler, we must be able to place him on some vector with both a direction and a magnitude. Thereby, this would allow us to determine an opposite vector with an equal magnitude but opposite trajectory.
In order to determine this, we need some framework (ideally at least two-dimensional and not linear) that can objectively plot both Hitler’s worst transgressions as well as the perceived opposite of those actions.
No easy task.
However, I would like to propose just such a framework (which I like to call the “Improvement Axiom”) for your consideration and it looks like this:
Two axes. One for quality vs. one for intent. That’s it.
To clarify the definitions of quality and intent, please consider the following:
Something that is high quality resonates with you, it speaks to you. Conversely, something that is low quality repels you, it rings hollow.
Someone with creative intent focuses on building and sharing things, infusing herself into something larger. Conversely, someone with consumptive intent focuses on extracting things, elevating himself into something larger.
To lay this out in a more detailed manner, the axes would look as follows:
The strength of this framework is that it avoids the typical contradictions created by traditional measures of “good” or “bad” while still maintaining a high correlation with the individual’s overall positive or negative long-term impact on society.
So does it work? Let’s give it a shot and just tackle the big one. Hitler.
It would be rare to find anyone with a more consumptive mindset than Hitler. He consumed resources, souls and entire nations. That which he did not destroy in the process of consumption he then injected back into an ever-expanding system of political machinery which was diabolically designed to further expand his consumptive powers. This places him on the extreme far left of the matrix.
As far as quality, it is also difficult to imagine anyone who had a more dissonant effect on humanity. Hitler’s modus operandi was to create extreme distance between himself and his foes, i.e. to destroy them, to wipe them off the face of the planet. Even his allies were maintained only to the extent that they helped him to expand his massive consumptive machinery.
So if one were to plot Hitler in the spectrum of human activity, he would go somewhere over here:
Conceptually, there aren’t many more humans that would have such an extreme combination of those two variables. You would almost have to go to theoretical concepts to get further than him. Like, for instance:
This is mostly in jest but it is also to make a point. Whereas traditionally the symbolic concept of “Satan” is perceived as all that is “evil” (which is a largely linear framework of good vs evil), within the Axiom framework “Satan” is objectively the theoretical extreme combination of consumptive intent and low quality. It just so happens that these two variables have almost a perfect correlation with what most of society (with perhaps the exception of that guy from Silicon Valley) views as evil.
Which leads us to the concept of opposites. We have explored the extremes of consumptive intent and low quality. What could have an equal magnitude but the exact opposite trajectory?
Whereas Hitler was concerned only with consumption, we need someone who is only concerned with creation. Whereas Hitler was focused on creating extreme distance, we need someone who wanted to bring others closer together.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, this woman as the Anti-Hitler.
This is Maria Von Trapp. Yes, the real Maria, the one that wrote the memoir that inspired the German film that inspired the musical that inspired the movie that inspired the song that inspired millions of nursery room sing-a-longs since the movie Sound of Music was released in 1965.
Surprised? Perhaps you were expecting this Maria?
Well, yes Julie Andrews’ depiction of Maria was one for the ages and a huge reason why anyone knows the real Maria’s story. However, Julie Andrews’ Maria is not a real person. And Hitler was very very real.
So how could the real Maria Von Trapp, a woman who had no grand aspirations other than to sing with her family and live out her quiet life in Stowe, Vermont, how could she possibly be comparable in orders of magnitude to Hitler? If you plotted her on the chart, even with the benefit of the doubt, she might look something like this:
She clearly falls a bit short on her own. However, while she is perhaps more well-known by the works she inspired (of which she gained very little monetary compensation) than her own, her life was by no means insignificant for one crucial reason:
Without her living her life as she did, with courage, with humility and with creativity, we would have had none of the inspirational works that came after her.
No memoir. No German film. No musical. No movie. No Julie Andrews. No songs.
Just. An empty void.
Sadly back to this:
To be clear, Maria Von Trapp was no saint. In fact, contrary to the sunny disposition of Julie Andrews’ Maria, she was described by her own children as having an unpredictable and fiery temper.
As her son, Johannes von Trapp, eloquently said in a New York Times article in 1998:
“[The] Sound of Music simplifies everything. I think perhaps reality is at the same time less glamorous but more interesting than the myth.”
The real Maria was certainly less glamorous than the fictional Maria. But here’s the interesting thing about leading a high quality life with creative intent even if you aren’t a Hollywood star:
Quality work inspires more quality work which inspires even more quality work… even if it isn’t immediately observable at first.
That Maria chart? Let’s look at it again, but this time let’s follow the trail of inspiring works that came as a direct result of her life.
Yes, her legacy doesn’t always travel in a straight line. Yes, the real Maria alone never had nearly the magnitude of impact that Hitler did on the world. All this is true. But in a way, isn’t that even more encouraging?
In her way, in the way she lived, through the music she and her family created and through the sound of her voice, Maria Von Trapp was the Anti-Hitler.
But here’s the thing. In our own ways, through our own music or powerpoints or handiwork or whatever craft we choose, we can all live the same way Maria did. We can all channel our creative intent through that which we create. In that way, we can all inspire a legacy of quality work that expands far beyond the reach of any one bad apple.
Together, we can all be Anti-Hitlers.
And one final thought, there is that one little dot remaining in the lower left. Is it ever possible to find the opposite of that?
We all have different things that resonate with us, that’s the beauty of life. Sometimes, there are moments or creations that are of such high quality, that resonate so broadly that they can, in fact, change the world.
Reflecting on the climactic scene of the movie (spoiler alert!), the audience of the Salzberg Music Festival was so inspired by the Von Trapp’s heartfelt ode to Austria that they summoned the courage to add their own voices, even amidst the watchful eyes of the tyrannical Nazi army.
Perhaps in a similar way, this movie and the songs it has etched into our collective memory has reached others deeply within their souls. Perhaps to another creator out their brimming with both potential and uncertainty, the “Sound of Music” is more than just a movie, it’s an idea, a symbol and a motivator that gives them hope for the future and a reason to live.
And without the real Maria living the way she did, that would have never come to pass. So thank you, Maria, for being the opposite of Hitler.
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