The humble success

It is extremely saddening to read news about suicides during the exam time and results time, I just read one such news today. That’s when Alain de Botton‘s statement rings true –

It’s perhaps easier now than ever before to make a good living. It’s perhaps harder than ever before to stay calm, to be free of career anxiety.

Alain de Botton is a philosopher and author, who writes simply with humour. He tries to combine philosophy with everyday life. His book Essays in Love (1993) has sold over two million copies. His other books include How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and The Architecture of Happiness (2006).

Alain de Botton is famous for his School Of Life – which offers an emotional education focusing in particular on the issues of Work and Relationships.

In this TED talk, Botton talks about our perceptions of success and failure – and questions the implicit assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? And failure?

His talk also reminded me of Intellectual Fascism that Albert Ellis had discussed in his paper and book. This is part of the abstract from his paper –

Intellectual fascism is the arbitrary belief that individuals possessing certain “good” traits (such as intelligence and creativity) are intrinsically superior to those possessing “bad” traits (such as stupidity or lack of artistry). Although it is true that under certain conditions and for various purposes some human traits are more advantageous or “better” than others, rating people as “good” or “bad” on the basis of their intellectual performances is inaccurate and is often as pernicious as is political-social fascism.

~ Albert Ellis

Botton examines the snobbery about profession and its associated status. This is what he says in this talk.

The dominant kind of snobbery that exists nowadays is job snobbery. You encounter it within minutes at a party, when you get asked that famous iconic question of the early 21st century, “What do you do?” According to how you answer that question, people are either incredibly delighted to see you, or look at their watch and make their excuses
Most people make a strict correlation between how much time, and if you like, love — not romantic love, though that may be something — but love in general, respect — they are willing to accord us, that will be strictly defined by our position in the social hierarchy.

This is absolutely true, in fact according to my observation, most people expect you to come up with a single professional identity for this question – “What do you do?”.

Botton explains envy quite well, more in terms of how we feel about our career and rewards when we compare ourselves to those we consider identical to us, with factors such as age, background etc. He also discusses how success is attributed mostly to self efforts now and in a way, favourable factors are taken for granted. Though he agrees success is largely due to own efforts, he has his doubts about those who fail to make it. He goes on to discuss how in olden days, the poor were referred as unfortunate in Europe as compared to losers as it is prevalent in America today. This is what he says about meritocracy and kind of impact its corollary could have –

A meritocratic society is one in which, if you’ve got talent and energy and skill, you will get to the top, nothing should hold you back. It’s a beautiful idea. The problem is, if you really believe in a society where those who merit to get to the top, get to the top, you’ll also, by implication, and in a far more nasty way, believe in a society where those who deserve to get to the bottom also get to the bottom and stay there. In other words, your position in life comes to seem not accidental, but merited and deserved. And that makes failure seem much more crushing.

That’s exhilarating if you’re doing well, and very crushing if you’re not. It leads, in the worst cases — in the analysis of a sociologist like Emil Durkheim — it leads to increased rates of suicide. There are more suicides in developed, individualistic countries than in any other part of the world.

It is worth listening to Alain de Botton and understand why he thinks genuinely meritocratic society is an impossible dream. It’s funny at the same time thought-provoking how some of the famous Shakespearean plays could get transformed to one liners by newspapers. Do listen…

This is something I really liked from this talk and would stay with me –

In other words, hold your horses when you’re coming to judge people. You don’t necessarily know what someone’s true value is. That is an unknown part of them, and we shouldn’t behave as though it is known.

~ Alain de Botton

About the featured image:

The featured image for this article is found on the internet. Far too many sites are using it to give credit to any specific site. I am using this image here with gratitude and thanking the unknown photographer.

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