Recently, I watched a western called ‘Firecreek’. It shows how humiliation can motivate men and women to perform heroic actions.
‘Firecreek’ was made in 1968. It starred James Stewart who acted the part of Johnny Cobb, the essentially decent part time sheriff of the sleepy town of Firecreek at ‘the tail end of nowhere’.
However, he fails to take firm action when the outlaw gang of Bob Larkin, acted by Henry Fonda, bully the town on the day Preacher Broyles arrives for a weekday service.
Cobb keeps telling himself that what the gang are and do is not really his business. They will, after all, be leaving soon. He tries to ‘ride the greasy pig’ of compromise for most of that fateful day.
Larkin, too, has to ride the same pig. Being a gang leader means everything to him. He leads but stoops to humour his men to keep their support.
Two of the gang, Norman and Earl, scare a girl who falls into a creek but they ‘put things right’ by giving her five dollars for a new dress. Later, the gang break a window in the local bar and offer five dollars to pay for the damage.
Near the end of the film, Earl mocks the town: “Ain’t nothing five dollars won’t take care of in this town.”
The preacher’s sermon is interrupted twice by Earl. The sheriff asks him to leave. He leaves the meeting place but not the town. Cobb excuses his half measures:
“You don’t tell someone to leave town because he has bad manners.”
Later, the preacher is ready to ride on. However, his horse is so scared by a gunshot from Earl that it throws him heavily on his back.
Earl pretends to be sorry for what he has done and intimidates the preacher into forgiving him by pointing his gun at him as his friends back him up. The preacher reluctantly says: “No harm done.”
Both the town and the sheriff are accommodating and ready to turn the other cheek. The gang members are taking full advantage of this.
After some more horseplay, Arthur, the mentally disabled but brave ‘deputy sheriff’, asks Cobb if everything is alright. Again, Cobb refuses to face the problem:
“They will be gone soon.”
That night, Drew, another outlaw, attempts to rape a Red Indian mother. Arthur accidentally shoots Drew in the back whilst trying to protect the lady.
Drew dies and the gang demand justice. Arthur is locked up for his own protection. He asks why the gang are not locked up instead of him.
He may be mentally disabled but he sees more clearly than the sheriff. A macabre wake now takes place for Drew. He is seated in a chair in the main street and most of the town are forced to attend the funeral.
Cobb is not happy with what is going on. “In the morning, they will be gone”, says Mr. Whittier, one of the citizens. “Let it go, Johnny; let it go.”
At that point, Cobb is called home to look after his pregnant wife. Here he realizes that he has been ‘settling for less’ since he first came to Firecreek.
While he is away, Arthur is hanged by the outlaws. Cobb has thus allowed the gang to humiliate the town and to kill a brave young man.
Cobb realizes that the Larkins of this world are everybody’s business. If everybody stood up to them they would have no place to go. Arthur had done what he could even though he had little to do it with.
Cobb is at this point desperately sad and humiliated but his humiliation now motivates him to take massive action. He wants no more half measures and is determined to destroy the gang and restore pride to the town.
He threatens to follow the outlaws and see them hang. Larkin shoots him in the leg and tells him that worrying about his leg will ‘slow him down’. Later Larkin regrets this half-measure: “A man worth shooting, is a man worth killing.”
Cobb staggers along to the store to get a gun. He has realized that:
“The day a man decides not to face the world, is the day he’d better step out of it.”
Against all the odds, Cobb kills Norman and Earl and then faces Larkin. Larkin gives him a chance to live by offering a compromise.
Cobb is well beyond compromise and no longer cares for his life. He struggles to load his gun knowing that Larkin could kill him at any time. At this point, a brave lady citizen of the town shoots Larkin. Cobb wins the day with her assistance.
Humiliation might of course have turned him into a shadow of his former self, haunted by memories of what he had not done. Instead, humiliation motivated him to become a hero to his two sons and the town as a whole.
The film is fiction but it is based on the way humans use feeble excuses to weasel their way out of taking firm action. However, humiliation can eventually help the good guys to discover their real selves and to take bold and heroic action. Humiliation can have this effect in real life as well as in the movies.
Jim Rohn talks about the day that changed his life when he felt thoroughly humiliated by not having enough money to give to a girl scout who was collecting for charity.
He was motivated by this incident to become a millionaire who was then able to donate generously to the next girl scout he met.
Advertisers know how to tap into the motivating power of humiliation. Any experience of humiliation, whether imagined or real, can move people to buy products that will help them overcome the feeling of humiliation.
A famous ad plays on the memories of humiliation which we all have. It goes something like this:
“They laughed when I sat down to play the piano but they soon stopped laughing when they realized I could play.”
Such advertisements which remind you of the real or imaginary time when you were humiliated and laughed at can move you to buy a course on how to play the piano or anything else.
The famous Charles Atlas advertisement showed a skinny weakling having sand kicked in his face by a young, muscular bully who goes off with the girl.
Many weak young men related to this and bought the course. I wasn’t particularly weak at the time but I bought the course anyway!
The Karate Kid movie was based round the humiliation of the kid in the early part of the film when he is tripped up on the beach in front of his girlfriend.
He goes on to learn Karate skills from a wise mentor.
Nor is this just an experience to be found in fictitious films. I have students who have come to my martial arts class after being bullied and humiliated in front of their friends and family.
They are usually very determined and highly motivated. They work hard and seldom miss a lesson. Eventually others come to them for protection!
Humiliation can create a turning point in the lives of individuals and even entire nations. The Romans never forgot their humiliation by Hannibal after he crossed the Alps and defeated their crack legions several times.
They did not rest until his home town of Carthage was razed to the ground and Hannibal, himself, was tracked down and forced to commit suicide as an old man.
Sports teams that are humiliated by defeats and a loss of reputation as Italy were in 2006 may well, like Italy, go on to become world champions.
Boxers love it when their opponents boast that they will win easily. Those who are humiliated before a fight may well celebrate victory after it.
We can all tap into the motivational power of humiliation. The next time you or I are described as useless at some skill, we could use the humiliation to become masters of that skill or to at least develop some other skill we are more suited for.
I heard, recently, about a teacher who gave up his job after finding excrement in his brief case. This was the final humiliation. He is now in another job which he enjoys and which pays much more.
He used the energy of humiliation not to improve his teaching skills but to find a job he could thrive in – a constructive use of the power of humiliation
Humiliation can give us energy and colossal determination or it can break us. Fortunately, we can choose whether to use that energy constructively or waste it on feeling sorry for ourselves.
We may still need to maintain the raw energy of humiliation by reminding ourselves frequently of the incidents when we were humiliated or of the words which belittled us and made us feel worthless.
We could even imagine potential humiliations which have not yet occurred and use these imaginary scenes from the future to motivate us in the present. Make humiliation your friend and not your destroyer.
Source by John Watson