April 12, 2007

Craving The Love Of Strangers

Last night I got to talking with my friend about why people do things the way they do in public. Mostly we were discussing some local politicians but what we were talking about was why politicians beat the hell out of each other and are willing to risk looking like such asses in the hopes of attracting attention to themselves. And this conversation dovetailed into an ongoing topic between The Wife and I, which is our complete mystification about why anyone would want fame or think that being well-known was a good thing.

What I remembered last night was a wonderful line from Chicago:

Oooh, the audience loves me... and I love them. And they love me for loving them and I love them for loving me. And we love each other. And that's because none of us got enough love in our childhood. And that's showbiz... kid!

A great many people who do things in public do so in order to get love -- and what's sad is that the love they seek is the love of strangers, who of course do not really love them and are happy to cut them to ribbons later if that is more amusing. (Which, in one sense, is what the musical Chicago was all about.)

I told my friend that I had no desire to seek public office, no desire to gain fame, in order to quench my need for the love of people who are strangers to me. I am confident that I have the love of my wife, my family, and my friends, and I find that love to be quite nourishing.

But then I got to thinking that a desparate craving of the love of strangers is not the only reason that people do things publicly -- some of them have a craving for power, not for the love or adulation it brings but for its own sake. These sorts tend to be just a bit sociopathic, one would think. But that's not really fair -- "control freaks" is more like it. The decision may not be a difficult one, but they want to make it. You might make the same decision as them, but it's important to them to be the person who decides.

A partner in the firm tells a story of a lawyer he practiced with a long time ago who would never park in an open parking spot that someone else pointed out. As soon as you would say to this guy, "Oh, there's a spot to the left!" he would turn to the right and drive as far away from that spot as he could. Needless to say, he would never let anyone else drive. In negotiations, I have found that these kinds of people will not accept an offer put to them, no matter how reasonable -- their offer must be the one that my side accepts, not the other way around. I try and figure out at as early a stage as I can whether someone on the other side is a pathological decision-maker, so I can use that knowledge to my advantage.

And then there's the people who have to be right. Their psyches are only nourished if they get the affirmation of being recognized as being smart and being correct. Everyone likes being right, because it's better than being wrong. But for some people it goes a little further than that; they derive a substantial amount of their self-worth from affirmations of their intelligence and correctness.

I have to admit that there's a little bit of that in me, just as there's a little bit of that in everyone who feels the need to express themselves in a public forum -- which, as far as I can tell, includes millions of people who blog and millions more who comment on other peoples' blogs. Being aware of this kind of vanity, and making an effort to keep it in check, is about all I think anyone can do.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Aristotle's maxim is the start of participating in a good debate. Real mental maturity is taking that a step further, and being willing to change one's mind after convincing arguments have been advanced -- even if it means sacrificing the pleasure of being right.

The question for the person who seeks intellectual maturity is "how long do I stand my ground and argue for what I think is right, and when do I admit that the other side has a strong enough point that I need to re-evaluate my own position?" In law, this is an easy question to answer -- you stand your ground until the issue is resolved by the court, and after that you accept the result and move on to the next problem. In less-structured tests of intellect, the boundary is not so well-defined.

So, some people have to be right, some people have to be loved, some people have to be the ones making the decisions. I can't think of any other motivation for people to seek public careers. Can you?

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