"Is it better to be loved or feared?"
I was recently asked this question as I was recounting a classic Anquetil/Poulidor battle with a close friend and, well, it got me thinking.
It was the 1964 Tour stage finish on the Puy de Dome. The two Frenchmen – one the master, one the underdog – had ridden shoulder to shoulder for ten kilometers on roads so steep it was difficult to walk on. Although by this time he had won the Tour of Spain, Milan - San Remoand the Fleche Wallone, Poulidor's achievements were paltry compared to the man from Normandy. Nevertheless, every dog has his day; this stage was to be Poulidor's moment.
To this day, Raymond Poulidor is the more popular of the two; the reason? Maybe we prefer an unpredictable story. Maybe we recognize ourselves in Poulidor, having more in common with a man who tries and often fails, rather than the character who, without apparent effort, succeeds almost every time. It was a sentiment that Eddy Merckx faced during his racing career, whereby his dominance in the peloton prompted a similar reaction on the part of the spectating public. Bernard Hinault added another wrinkle to the question of love versus fear with his own unique career.
As a rider and competitor, it’s advantageous to be feared for your talents; your job is easier if opponents feel intimidated by your prowess. In terms of competition, being feared wins almost every time; all the more so if there’s an element of respect mixed in. In “real” life, the life off the bike, most cycling champions seem to want to be loved as much as the rest of us. They have little problem turning their swords back into ploughshares and finding a way to give back. Here are just two examples. Bernard Hinault founded Souffles D’Espoir, a charity helping the struggle against cancer; he regularly leads charity rides to raise money for this cause. Eddy Merckx travels as an ambassador for the Damien the Leper Society which combats leprosy around the developing world; he also funds research in Pediatric Cardiology conducted in Belgium and other charity work. Is there ego involved? The desire to remain in the public eye, or perhaps the desire, as in all of us, to be seen doing good works? I would imagine so, to a lesser or greater degree.
As for me, I’ll take love every time. Love of family and friends, love of duty, doing the right thing wherever possible. Love of this understated, subtle craft that has entranced me for thirty odd years and at which I remain a willing student. Where do we get our impulses, our encouragements to pursue a path, or adopt a certain attitude to living? For me, it was my father; a man who seemed to never "work” a day in his life. Tom Jones was an experimental engineer who worked on adapting gas turbine engines for use in cars; a modest, beloved man who led by example and who was, truly, the hub around which all activity revolved. I absorbed from him the proposition that either you love what you do -- or you do something else. I digress.
Fear is easy. It doesn't take much. It is, in a sense, instinctual; a path from another time.
Love takes work. It takes intention. It isn't necessarily the easiest way to live. That said, I can assure you it is, absolutely, the most profound, the most engaging, and the most rewarding.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends.