Heroes or Traitors: The Frustration Threshold's Decisive Role

Heroes or Traitors: The Frustration Threshold's Decisive Role

Heroes or Traitors: The Frustration Threshold's Decisive Role

Jules Renard, the French writer and playwright, once said: "There are two kinds of people: some roll with the world, and others run alongside and shout, 'My God, where is the world going?'"

The main and fundamental difference between people lies in the threshold of frustration. It is this characteristic that determines whether a person will be successful, whether they will achieve a lot, how interesting and prosperous their life will be, and whether they will find happiness. The frustration threshold can vary, being either low or high, but everything is relative. If your frustration threshold is noticeably higher than that of your personal environment, you will emerge as a leader, attracting attention and approval. Conversely, if it is lower, the opposite may occur.

A high frustration threshold is what distinguishes a visionary, the type of leader described by the Russian philosopher and scientist Lev Gumilev (1912—1992): purposeful, determined, energetic, and creative. Gumilev's theory of passionarity and ethnogenesis describes the historical process as the interaction of developing ethnic groups with the surrounding landscape and other ethnic groups. In his opinion, the level of development, mentality, and even the desire to expand territories of any ethnic group directly depend on the number of passionaries in it. 

He outlines levels of passionarity:

  • Passionarity above the norm signifies a willingness to make sacrifices for an ideal, along with a desire and ability to change the world.

  • Passionarity at the level of the norm (harmony) implies a balance with the environment.

  • Passionarity (sub-passionarity) below the norm suggests a tendency toward laziness, passivity, parasitism, and betrayal.

Let's delve deeper into the concept of the frustration threshold and its influences. While largely innate, the threshold can be developed and raised through effort. However, improper upbringing can diminish a naturally high threshold. In simple terms, the frustration threshold denotes how quickly a person gives up on achieving their goals. It measures the degree of stress, strain, and anxiety necessary to deter a person from fulfilling both lower and higher needs. With a high frustration threshold, individuals pursue their goals calmly and confidently.

It's important not to confuse a high frustration threshold with artificially inflated self-esteem. Inflated self-esteem is a detrimental mental construct typically associated with a low frustration threshold. Individuals resort to such illusions as "I am the best" or "I can achieve anything I want" when any doubt threatens their motivation. However, this pseudo-confidence, an imitation of a high frustration threshold, yields dismal results.

Why is the frustration threshold largely innate? Mainly because it relies on the strength and flexibility of the nervous system, along with its balanced functioning. Factors like appropriate responses to stimuli, low anxiety levels, and the ability to balance inhibition and excitation all play a role in determining a high frustration threshold. Children who are anxious or easily excited typically exhibit a lower frustration threshold. However, in adults, personality traits such as self-esteem, self-regulation, and levels of spontaneity play a crucial role in setting the threshold.

The Passionary theory of ethnogenesis posits that passionarity represents an innate capacity within organisms to absorb the energy of their surroundings and convert it into productive action. In humans, this trait varies greatly, occasionally overriding the instinct of self-preservation. As a result, individuals termed passionaries are driven to enact transformative changes in their environment, guided by an irresistible inner ambition. This drive often prioritizes their goals above personal or collective well-being, emphasizing the significance of their aspirations even over their own lives or those of their peers.

Understanding the innate aspects of the frustration threshold sheds light on its development and manifestation in individuals. Observing my clients, many of whom are successful businessmen from the Forbes list, I always notice their significantly higher frustration thresholds compared with their employees. Every time I witness their behavior in crisis situations, I notice this specific feature enabling them to withstand immense pressure, make bold decisions, and pursue their visions with unwavering determination, maintaining composure and pursuing their goals amidst adversity. This resilience in the face of challenges is reminiscent of the traits displayed by famous passionaries throughout history.

Looking at history, famous passionaries, sovereigns, and commanders are characterized by exceptional aggressiveness and courage. They are the ones who fight for the conquest of the peoples surrounding their own ethnos or, on the contrary, fight against the invaders. It is very difficult to pacify and intimidate them; sometimes it is easier to kill them. Outstanding passionaries are characterized by excellent organizational skills and so-called passionary induction (contagiousness, the ability to entice the masses of non-passionary people to follow them). After all, sincerity causes sympathy, and activity, especially sacrificial activity, is contagious.

This historical perspective underscores the profound impact of passionaries on human society. We find the highest degree of passionarity in the most selfless people, in those who can sacrifice themselves and their offspring, who are either not born or are in complete neglect for the sake of illusory desires: ambition, vanity, pride, greed, jealousy, and other passions. 

Among the most dedicated passionaries are remarkable political figures who, driven by their intense passions, are willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives.

In any group of people under consideration,  passionaries represent a minority driven by intense dedication and ambition, while on the opposite end are sub-passionaries, who struggle to meet even their most basic needs. These are such people as vagrants, drug addicts, alcoholics, petty criminals. But it is worth noting that under the management of passionaries they often get into the ranks of soldiers or rebels, and under proper guidance are able to perform some activity. The vast majority of people are harmonious individuals in whom both these sides are balanced. They are conscientious people, exemplary family, active, easily adaptable to difficulties, but they will never jump above their heads, much less neglect the instinct of self-preservation to achieve the goal.

However, not all passionaries become leaders and not all their goals are positive. Such people are undoubtedly risky and active, but the point is that passionarity can generate both feats and crimes, have both good and evil intentions, carry both creation and destruction, absolutely any changes, but only not indifference and inaction.

Let’s have a look at Napoleon I Bonaparte, a remarkable historical figure and classical passionate who played a great role in the history of France and history, in general. French emperor, king of Italy, outstanding military leader, and statesman, who laid the foundations of the modern French state. During the Napoleonic Wars, France conquered Egypt, Belgium, Holland, most of Italy, Austria, most of Germany, Poland, and Spain. Thanks to his victorious wars Napoleon greatly expanded the territory of the empire and made most of the states of Western and Central Europe dependent on France. Among Napoleon's character traits, historians note authoritarianism, stubbornness, selfishness, ambition, and originality, as well as sudden and impulsive decision-making. Napoleon was tireless. He could spend whole days on horseback, just as in his office chair. His intellect was all-encompassing. His mind not only grasped everything as a whole but also delved into the smallest details. It's remarkable that Napoleon wrote incoherently both in French and Corsican. However, the thoughts he expressed were marked by precision, clarity, accuracy, conciseness, and simplicity of presentation. From one mental task to another, Napoleon transitioned as easily and freely as from one physical object to another. He assumed almost all the state work and embraced everything with his mind. He worked early in the morning, at noon, in the evening, and at night. Often falling asleep for an hour or two, Napoleon would wake up and work through the entire night. His secretaries would tire and change, but he remained unchanged. The Emperor of Elba decided to confide only in his mother about his attempt to return to France. This greatly shocked Letizia Bonaparte. "Let me forget for a while that I am your mother!" she said, and then, after some thought, added, "Heaven will not allow you to die peacefully in your bed, or to perish from a secret enemy. You must face death with a sword in your hand, as befits you…" And in the late winter of 1815, Napoleon decides to go to France to restore the former power of the empire. Already on the first day of spring, Napoleon docked on the shore of the country formerly subject to him. As someone working with the press all his life, I can't leave unnoticed the funny fact, how French newspapers headlines changed as the former emperor approached the country's capital. When Napoleon first began his victorious march, the press shouted: "The Corsican monster has landed in the Bay of Juan," "The Ogre is coming to Trassa," "The Usurper has entered Grenoble." Bonaparte's successful actions, which secured his advance to Paris, caused the French headlines to become more moderate: "Bonaparte has occupied Lyons," "Napoleon approaches Fontainebleau." And when Napoleon was in the capital, the newspapers solemnly announced, "His Imperial Majesty enters Paris, faithful to him."

While observing how a high threshold of frustration propels individuals towards remarkable achievements, it becomes evident that morality does not always align with high energy levels and a thirst for action. The outcome depends largely on personal qualities; for instance, while pride may inspire noble leaders, the addition of greed can lead to the rise of tyrants seeking global conquest. Nevertheless, throughout history, numerous bright passionaries, such as Jeanne D’Arc, Isaac Newton, Jules César, and Alexander Macedonian, differ in their deeds but share an irresistible thirst for action. Considering the behavior of such leaders in moments of confrontation within the inner circle or external counteraction provides intriguing insights. 

For example, let's examine contemporary figures like Charles de Gaulle, the legendary French statesman, military leader, and founding president of the Fifth Republic. During World War II his unwavering determination to resist the Nazi occupation and his refusal to accept the armistice signed by the French government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain marked him as a symbol of French resistance. Despite facing immense challenges and skepticism from some allies, de Gaulle's insistence on continuing the fight rallied many French soldiers, sailors, and airmen to his cause. From his base in London, de Gaulle worked tirelessly to build support for the Free French Forces, appealing to French colonies and territories around the world to join the resistance. His broadcasts on the BBC and his famous speeches, such as the "Appeal of 18 June," galvanized support for the cause of a Free France. Under de Gaulle's leadership, the Free French Forces played a crucial role in several Allied campaigns, including the liberation of French territories in North Africa and the eventual liberation of France itself. De Gaulle's diplomatic skills also helped ensure France's participation in the post-war negotiations and the establishment of the United Nations.

In the case of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, his passionarity in leadership and decision-making had significant consequences, particularly in the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite encountering resistance from both within his own party and across the nation, Kennedy's decision to support civil rights legislation and desegregation initiatives demonstrated his steadfast dedication to advancing the rights of marginalized communities. His leadership on civil rights, exemplified by the enactment of pivotal legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, left an indelible mark on American society, demonstrating the power of impassioned leadership to effect lasting change.

This legacy underscores a broader truth: all scientific discoveries, achievements, and positive deeds endure in society's collective memory across generations. Conversely, passionaries with negative inclinations can leave destructive legacies, shaping history with violent events and negative consequences. Yet, underlying this drive for action and accomplishment lies a fundamental factor: the frustration threshold. By examining the experiences of individuals with notably high frustration thresholds, we gain insight into our own capacity to confront challenges, adapt, and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives. Recognizing our true frustration threshold empowers us to cultivate resilience, fortitude, and determination, essential qualities for thriving in today's world.

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Masha Ionochkina

Guest Columnist

Masha Ionochkina is a French political consultant and an expert in reputation management, boasting over two decades of experience in the field. Currently serving as the CEO at Silver Eye Reputation Management, a French agency, Masha leads a team of media and law experts dedicated to positive reputation and anti-crisis communications. With a background in political consultancy and global election campaigns, Masha has successfully managed international public affairs and media relations across numerous countries. A scholar as well as a practitioner, Masha holds a degree in Public Relations and Journalism from Moscow State University for Foreign Relations and pursued Doctoral Studies in Political Science. Fluent in Russian, English, Turkish, and French, Masha also holds a Private Pilot License. As a monthly guest columnist, Masha promises to deliver insightful commentary on reputation management tendencies, politics, and elections. Her proactive approach to shaping and preserving digital profiles and client reputations offers readers a unique perspective, informed by years of experience at the intersection of media, politics, and public relations.

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