Recently, I have been reminded of a scene from The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand’s tribute to the creative freethinker. As the story opens, Howard Roark is being expelled from ArchitecturalSchool for “insubordination”. The Dean and faculty advocate traditional designs; Roark is an innovative architect whose designs are radically new. The Dean wants Roark to build in accordance with the established styles of the past. Roark refuses.
The Dean, incredulous and bemused: “Who will let you [build your designs]?”
Roark: “That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?” He continues, “I’ve chosen the work I want to do….and I can find joy [in it] only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards – and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”
I first read this book in my early twenties. Typically, as an ambitious university student, Rand’s words spurred me on. In my quixotic youth, I slew imaginary foes, shadowy figures who stood in my way. I never met them or knew who they were, but I struggled valiantly against them. It wasn’t until I revisited the book a decade later, as a mother and author of unrealised dreams, that I discovered the true identity of my greatest obstacle: myself!
Rand has purposefully given her hero no history, he simply emerges from the page as the perfect personification of integrity and independent functioning: a man above reproach. For better or worse, we, on the other hand, all stand at the end of a tradition, a history of our own making, partially funded by an inheritance of conditioning. What does it tell us? Have you set your standards high? Have you lived with integrity? Have you lived a life that is true to your self? If we’re being honest, I don’t think many of us can answer with a resounding yes. But here’s the good news! You now stand at the beginning of a new tradition. As of this moment, reset your standards, default to your best. And when you ask yourself, “who will stop me?” let the answer be an emphatic: no one!
Anne Baynham, Dept of Education