Man on Wire: in defense of beauty

Philippe Petit walks between the Twin Towers
Philippe Petit walks between the Twin Towers

Yesterday I finally got to see “Man on Wire,” the wonderful,  superlative-defying documentary about Philippe Petit, who illegally strung a wire between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974 and then walked across the 450 foot span between the towers, 1,350 feet above the ground.

I was left with two specific reflections from the film.  The first was that when Philippe came down – handcuffed – from his 45 minutes on a wire more than 100 stories high, he was repeatedly asked “Why did you do it?”

His response was, approximately, “I just created something singular, something of beauty, something that has never been seen and never will be seen again, and all people can think to ask is why I did it!”  It’s a helpful reminder that we do not always need a ‘why’ for everything, that beauty and inspiration themselves are enough of an answer sometimes.

My second reflection was about people and roles that are needed to create something truly spectacular.  Philippe plays the part of the entrepreneur whose vision and passion are so captivating and inspiring that people are pulled to him and offer up their support – because they want to be part of something great.  These other people don’t need to be – and probably shouldn’t be – entrepreneurs.

Philippe’s counterpart is his friend Jean-Louis Blandeau, whose job is to be the naysayer, the guy who pressure-tests the plans, the person who butts heads with Philippe but who ultimately has Philippe’s complete trust and respect.  Jean-Louis is part of a crew of 8 people who play a part in this triumph, and it served to remind me that to do something great, you generally don’t want a gaggle of entrepreneurs (or, for that matter, any group of people with the same characteristics).

There are different roles that need to be filled and part of each of our individual challenges and opportunities is to be self-aware enough to know what role we are most suited to play, and then to become as good as possible at playing that role — while still leaving plenty of space to stretch ourselves from time to time.

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