I just started reading Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. This paragraph surprised me:
And lastly (I may as well confess it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody), perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity [by writing this]. Indeed, I scarce ever heard or saw the introductory words, "Without vanity I may say," but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of his life.
Fascinating! Thank God for vanity? Wow...
But you know, it makes some sense. It seems to me that modesty is good when it helps you achieve what you set out to achieve, and modesty is bad when it stops you from achieving what you set out to achieve. Whether modesty is effective or not depends on the situation. Some situations call for it. Some don't.
It seems to me that there's a certain kind of pragmatic humility that'd always be good to have. Knowing what you don't know, knowing that there's a lot of skills you don't have, understanding that even your best reasoned judgment of a situation might be overlooking some details...
That's good. But it seems like being modest (and not vain) would work for you in some situations, and against you in others. Sure, the excessively modest person will rarely be criticized, but he might also miss an opportunity to share valuable work he did, to connect with good people as a result of that work, and so on.
I've felt this way for a while, but I couldn't find a way to put it before reading the above. "Most people dislike vanity in others even if they're vain themselves, but vanity has some benefits to the man that has it and others within his sphere of action."
Third parties outside your sphere of action will usually react in a unfavorably to any vanity they see. Especially people that dislike you anyways. But when it's appropriate, a little vanity can go a long way towards promoting important things you're doing and lighting the path you've walked for people who want to follow later.
I liked The Moral Animal partially for the way it dissected Charles Darwin and his "humility" and revealed it for the evolutionary-survival-trick it is.
I like "Fart Proudly" better than Franklin's autobiography but tastes vary. :) He was a wonderful old scoundrel. He got kicked out of France in his 70's because he was having a tempestuous affair with a 60-something noble woman. Very shocking. :)
(Presumably) Solomon said in Ecclesiastes...All is vanity...so work hard, be fruitful and multiple, and enjoy the results of your efforts:
4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
7 I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.
13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
I call these daemons. Sometimes profitable to deal with, just don't sell your soul to them.
Shameless plug: http://letterstoafriend.cc/daemonology
I know, right? I even played BF in one of those kids play things for Thanksgiving one year, and all I learned about him was some stupid kite!
It's true...hearing or seeing vanity from other people is rarely welcomed by almost anybody...as you well said...there's always that prejudice for being vane.
Vanity can be poisonous, but it can also be productive. It is one thing that sometimes drives ambition, which often drives success.
I think it’s feigned modesty that you have to guard against. To me it’s a false façade and diminishes the possibility of real authentic relationships. If you are maintaining a false façade and I’m also projecting a phony persona how can we possibly connect in any authentic satisfying way? And I think one of the most treasured experiences we all crave is real connection with another human being. Anything less leaves us feeling lonely and alienated. Now this way of thinking might limit the number of relationships that you have, but the ones that you have will be more fulfilling.
It shocked me how much I got from reading Ben Franklin.
I struggled a bit with the raw auto-bio though. The language is definitely not ours. This is an excellent book on him, which sticks very closely to and quotes heavily from his bio, and provides other nice complements like letters, and historical context: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FBJG4U/
Also, a collection of my favorite BF quotations:
So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
There were four rules: It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action—the most amiable excellence in a rational being. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever.
When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.” Instead, he would agree in parts and suggest his differences only indirectly.
He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.
Franklin’s “Dissertation” does not belong in the annals of sophisticated philosophy. Indeed, it was, as he later conceded, so shallow and unconvincing as to be embarrassing. He printed a hundred copies, called it an “erratum,” and burned as many as he could retrieve.
I think ol' Ben would have fit right in around here. :)
In response to yesterday's "Tokugawa’s Generals, and Being a Great Follower," I wrote that greatness is something you define for yourself. I asked, what's your definition of greatness, then? We can think about it. The reader clarified -
I wrote down a list of great men and realized what I meant by greatness. Glory, recognition by other human beings. From conquerors, to musical virtuosos, the great men are those that are supported by the wave of existing people. Great men are those who did something that is today recognized as valuable. Great men are those that are known by "everyone". That is how I think fame should be seen. That is how I am seeing it as of now.
Something that jumps to the eyes is that it requires other people. If you are great then at least someone must be not great. I guess being successful in life is different from being great. If living a successful life is minimally having 2 kids with more opportunities than you had and a strong family then once achieved, your are successful. Greatness I think could be seen as recognized success. Perhaps self-recognized success can make you see yourself as great...
If everyone is successful and recognize that their success and others are great, then everyone is great, hence no one is great. (or otherwise said, to my belief, the word "great" loses value as "awe-some" did) Well that is how I see it. Everyone is successful in something, not all are The Great. Where were the risk-taking warriors? As I now understand, they were fearful. Then again I suppose they had to stop someday throne or no throne. Having acquired the belief that to rebel is a bad ROI.
In the famous novel, The Idiot (free Kindle edition), by the great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the protagonist, Prince Myshkin, is perceived and called an idiot throughout the book.
In reality, he is quite astute, but his epileptic fits and his "saintly nature" fool others into thinking he is idiotic.
Here are 5 passages that shed light on the psychology of human relationships:
1. The importance of projecting positive energy:
"Probably when he is alone he looks quite different, and hardly smiles at all!" thought the prince.