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新编英语教程第四册unit12_3_The_Virtues_of_Ambition

The Virtues of Ambition

1 The word "ambition" means different things to different people, and the way you define it reveals a great deal about yourself. The Seventh Edition of Webster's Dictionary, supposedly neutral in its approach, defines "ambition" first and foremost as an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power". Isn't that too narrow? Surely, ambition is not only behind dreams of wealth, of glory, of distinction, and of accomplishment, but also behind dreams of love, of pleasure, and of goodness. Thus, historically, it is neither a completely positive nor a negative term.

2 We all have dreams, but what life does with our dreams and expectations cannot, of course, be predicted. Some dreams, begun in selflessness, end in hatred; other dreams, begun in selfishness, end in large-heartedness. However, the unpredictability of the outcome of dreams is no reason to stop dreaming.

3 To be sure, ambition is never a pretty subject to think about for long. Just as drunks have done to alcohol, the single-mindedly ambitious people have done to ambition given it a bad name. Like those individuals with a strong desire for alcohol, some people have an equally strong desire for ambition, which cannot be satisfied. Some people cannot handle ambition and cause grief for themselves and for others as well. Still, none of this seems sufficient to make people be secretive about being ambitious.

4 It is easy for us to believe that those who have achieved the common goals of ambition money, fame, and power have achieved them through corruption of a greater or lesser degree, mostly greater. Thus all politicians in high places, thought to be ambitious, are understood to be without ethical principles. We wonder how they could have ethical principles and still have risen as high as they have.

5 Certainly people do not seem less interested in success and what it can do for us now than formerly. Summer homes, European vacations, travel, BMW's such items do not seem less in demand than they did a decade or two years ago. What has happened is that people cannot admit their dreams as easily and openly as they once could, lest they be thought of as pushing, acquisitive, and vulgar. For such people and many more perhaps not so outstanding, the proper action seems to be, "Succeed at all costs but refrain from appearing ambitious." The attacks on ambition are many and come from various angles, while its public defenders are few and ineffective. As a result, the support for ambition as a healthy impulse, a quality to be admired and cultivated in the young, is probably lower than it has ever been in the United States. This does not mean that ambition is at an end, that people no longer feel its urges, but only that since it is no longer openly honored, it is therefore less often openly professed. Consequences follow from this, of course, some of which are that ambition is driven underground or made devious.

6 Many people are naturally distrustful of ambition, feeling that it represents something uncontrollable in human nature. Thus John Dean entitled his book about his involvement in the Watergate Affair during the Nixon administration Blind Ambition, as if ambition were to blame for his ignoble actions, and not the many qualities that make up his rather shabby character.

7 But considering things the other way, it is also bad to have no ambition just because of the fear of having too many. To discourage ambition is to discourage dreams of grandeur and greatness. All men and women are born, live, suffer and die; what distinguishes us from one another is our dreams, whether they be dreams about worldly or unworldly things, and what we do to make them come about.

8 It may seem an exaggeration to say that ambition is the connection to all of society, which holds all of its elements together, but it is not much of an exaggeration. Remove ambition and the essential elements of society seem to fly apart. Ambition, as opposed to mere fantasizing about desires, implies work and discipline to achieve goals, personal and social, of a kind society cannot survive without. Ambition is intimately connected with family, for men and women not only work partly for their families; husbands and wives are often ambitious for each other, but harbor their most important ambitions for their children.

9 It is not difficult to imagine a world without ambition. It would probably be a kinder world: without demands, without damage, without disappointments. People would have time for reflection. Such work as they did would not be for themselves but for the collectivity. Competition would never enter in. Conflict would be eliminated and tension would become a thing of the past. The stress of creation would be at an end. Art would no longer be troubling, but merely used to celebrate life. Longevity would be increased, for fewer people would die of heart attack or stroke caused by conflicts at work. Anxiety would be extinct. Time would stretch on and on, with ambition long departed from the human heart.

10 Ah, how unbelievably boring life would be!

11 There is a strong view that success is a myth and ambition therefore a sham. Does this mean that success does not really exist? That achievement is empty? That the efforts of men and women are of no significance alongside the force of movements and events? Now not all success, obviously, is of value, nor all ambition worth cultivating. Which are and which are not is something one soon enough learns on one s own. But even the most cynical people admit that success exists; that achievement counts for a great deal. To believe otherwise could cause one to become irrational. If one believes that ambitions are useless, this by implication removes all motive for competence, interest in attainment, and regard for the future.

12 We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, the country of our birth, or the way in which we are brought up. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of lack of choice, we must choose how we shall live: courageously or in cowardice, honorably or dishonorably, with purpose or in drift. We must decide what is important and what is trivial in life. We must also decide that what makes us significant is either what we do or what we refuse to do. But no matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. And as we decide and choose, so are our lives formed. In the end, forming our own destiny is what ambition is about.

(1133 words)
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