Credit: United Archives GmbH/Alamy Stock
On March 25th, 1983, The Outsiders premiered in theaters across the nation with a cast that would never be heard from again in Hollywood. (Okay, yes, I was absolutely sitting on my very own ?throne of lies? as I typed those words.) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the film version of the classic novel written by S.E. Hinton was brought to life by C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze (man I miss that guy), Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise and Diane Lane.
Likely set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Outsiders tells the story of two gangs ? The Greasers and the Socs ? with the focus on the former. Ponyboy Curtis, Sodapop, Darrel (Darry), Johnny Cade, Dallas Winston (Dally), Two-Bit and Steve Randle are the main Greasers who are blue-collar and from the wrong side of the tracks while the Socs are comprised of kids from the wealthy section of town. Early in the story, a fight ensues ? with Johnny and Ponyboy getting jumped by five Socs, resulting in the stabbing death of the main Soc instigator, Bob, at the hands of Johnny Cade.
Even though self-defense could probably be argued, the two boys flee and hide out in a church outside of town while the rest of the Greasers provide support. After one of the girls ? Cherry ? agrees to testify in support of Johnny, they decide to come back (but not before they grab a bite to eat). On their way back to the church to grab their things, they see that it?s on fire with children trapped inside. They decide to make an attempt to save the children ? which they do ? but in the process, Johnny is severely injured and close to death.
Before he dies in the hospital, he tells Ponyboy to ?stay gold,? which is from a Robert Frost poem, ?Nothing Gold Can Stay.? Another Frost poem, ?The Road Less Taken? is also invoked in one of my favorite movies of all time, Dead Poets Society, but I digress ? as I often do. A series of unfortunate events unfold from Johnny?s death, but eventually, Ponyboy is able to tell his tragic story of courage and bravery.
Before he dies in the hospital, he tells Ponyboy to ?stay gold.?
There?s so much more tell about S.E. Hinton?s literary masterpiece that we could dissect in a book of its own. And any movie that has the great Patrick Swayze should have its own spot in the Library of Congress with an induction into The National Film Registry, so if anyone reading this can make that happen, please let me know.
So what did the brat pack gang of Greasers from The Outsiders teach us about today?s workplace and our lives?
Never lose sight of your moral and ethical compass.
When Johnny Cade says, ?Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold,? he is in the hospital and close to death after saving the lives of children in a burning church. The entire group of Greasers have had incredibly difficult lives growing up on the wrong side of the tracks and being vilified for anything bad that happens in town. Johnny Cade comes from a background of abuse at home but is the least violent of the Greasers and often serves as kind of a moral compass for the gang even when he makes the decision to stab Bob (one of the Socs) since he is protecting Ponyboy. Despite his heart being in the right place, he is an incredibly vulnerable character which is not a good trait to have in his world and is the cause of several incidents where he is on the wrong end of a violent attack.
DIGRESSION ALERT: It?s interesting that Ralph Macchio played two of the more vulnerable characters in ?80s films ? Johnny Cade and the receiver of philosophical thought like ?wax on, wax off,? Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid (the original and only ? no more ?80s remakes please. You?ll hear that from me a lot. It?s my life mission).
Back to the lesson. So, with everything that Johnny has been through and the incredibly difficult, violent life he was born into and with no real opportunity to do better, he still chooses to run into a burning church in an attempt to save the children trapped inside. In his dying breaths, he implores Ponyboy to ?stay gold? ? to continue to be good no matter the situation and always look for the right thing to do in any circumstance ? regardless of how hard it may be.
Herein lies our lesson. This is for everyone in life and in business but most importantly for those in leadership or management positions and for those who are building or who have built their own business. Just like life, our workplace has ups and downs. And just like in life, when things are going well, our character is rarely tested. You are hitting your numbers; the company is growing, cash on hand is up, every account you chase you land and well, things couldn?t be going better. When everything is going your way; it?s easy to ?stay gold.?
Just like life, our workplace has ups and downs. And just like in life, when things are going well, our character is rarely tested.
But you know it?s coming at some point ? you?ll miss your numbers; you won?t land the big account, or even worse you?ll lose your biggest one. Cash is down, and borrowing is up. Your team or staff is shrinking, and project deadlines are missed. They are feeling the stress, and so are you. Things are spiraling out of control, and the boulders at the bottom of the proverbial hill get bigger and bigger. Everything just seems impossible. This is when the decisions that you make will have the largest impact on your business and more importantly, the people that depend on you and your leadership in the workplace. It?s when your workplace morale and ethical compasses will be tested. It?s when it is the most important time to ?stay gold,? and for some, it will also be the most difficult time to do the right thing.
The stress of a business or department that is failing ? even if for just a short time ? is more than some leaders can handle and they lash out at their teams or employees for no reason other than their inability to cope. They say and write things that begin to create a difficult and even hostile environment for everyone, many of who are not in the least bit responsible for the current situation. They play the blame game with their 10 fingers and 10 toes all pointing outward toward someone else who is usually at a lower level. Pretty sure we?ve all experienced this person. And if most of your leadership is what is referred to as ?jellyfish? or to use an ?80s term ?dweebs,? then be prepared for the proverbial circular firing squad. The political world thrives on this idea of no one taking responsibility. But again, I digress.
A minority will ultimately resort to actions that are unethical at best and sometimes criminal as they seek the easy and selfishly painless way out until, of course, either karma catches up with them (which is absolutely real ? just ask the Alpha Betas in Revenge of the Nerds) or prison (a? la Gordon Gecko) comes a-knockin.?
True leaders will keep their ethical and moral compasses intact, even sacrificing themselves to ensure that their team, business and employees are protected from whatever is ailing the workplace. They don?t do this because there is something in it for them. No. They do it because it is the right and noble thing to do, and it is what separates those that lead from those who rule. These are the times that your legacy is built and these are the times to invoke your inner Ponyboy Curtis and ?stay gold.?
These are the times that your legacy is built and these are the times to invoke your inner Ponyboy Curtis and ?stay gold.?
In this interesting moment in time, it?s important for all of us to ?stay gold? to our neighbors, friends, families, strangers, everyone. All of our legacies will be built from what we do in this moment so try and remember three things right now:
- This too shall pass
- Wash your hands
- Stay Gold