Sunday Snippet: Gaston Means on Extraordinary Men

“Ordinary men avoid trouble. Extraordinary men turn it to their advantage.”

One of my favorite shows on TV right now is Boardwalk Empire. It’s a fictional drama, but it is “inspired” by real world events during prohibition era Atlantic City. As such, there are several characters in the show — like Al Capone — who really were real people. In the second episode of this season, we are introduced to Gaston Means.

Gaston Means is best known as a private detective and con artist, working in the bootlegging “industry” during the early part of the 20th century. It wouldn’t be completely fair to attribute the quote above to Mr. Means directly, though, as it was simply a line in the script for that episode of Boardwalk Empire. Even so, I thought it was a clever quote and it reminds us that life is hard and life is dangerous; it’s just a matter of what you’re going to do about it.

Indeed, ordinary men remain ordinary because they avoid trouble. They avoid danger and they avoid risk, staying well within the confines of their comfort zone. That’s why they tend to stay in the middle part of the bell curve, so to speak.

By contrast, extraordinary men (and women) approach trouble, danger and risk in a different way. Yes, they may fail miserably by taking these chances, but you are remembered for what you accomplish. By taking that chance, they wind up at either end of the bell curve: astronomical success or pitiful failure… but that’s the only way you have the chance of being extraordinary.

You see, extraordinary people don’t see “trouble” as “trouble.” They see it as an opportunity. Sometimes it takes the form of entrepreneurial spirit, for instance. If it’s pouring rain, they don’t complain about getting their feet wet; they start selling umbrellas and raincoats. It’s not enough to recognize an opportunity; you have to capitalize on it. And that’s exactly what the bootleggers of the late 1800s and early 1900s did, for better or for worse.

Gaston Means is brilliantly played by Stephen Root on Boardwalk Empire. You might remember Root from his portrayal of Milton Waddams in Office Space (“Have you seen my stapler?”), as well as his voice talents playing Bill Dauterive and Buck Strickland on King of the Hill. I knew I recognized that voice from somewhere!