Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shallow Success

I've been talking about politics too much recently... and I need to expand out into things I care about just as much. Yesterday, I sat and looked through my old copy of Les Miserables and noticing some things I underlined when I plowed through the book a few years ago.

This piece on success really caught my eye:

In passing, we might say that success is a hideous thing. Its false similarity to merit deceives men. To the masses, success has almost the same appearance as supremacy. Success, that pretender to talent... Success: That is the theory. Prosperity supposes capacity. Win in the lottery, and you are an able man. The victor is venerated.... Have luck alone and you will have the rest; be happy, and you will be thought great.... [But] contemporary admiration is nothing but shortsightedness. Gilt is gold....

That mighty genius, by which one becomes a Moses, an Aeschylus, a Dante, a Michelangelo, or a Napoloeon, the multitude attributes at once and by acclamation to whoever succeeds in his object, whatever it may be.... They confuse heaven's radiant stars with a duck's footprint left in the mud.

It amazes me that something written so beautifully in the 1800s is so applicable today. We live in a world that gets so caught up in crazy definitions of success. And, so often we confuse success with actual ability. It doesn't matter how stupid somebody is... if they are rich, they must be smart.

I grew up in a very wealthy area... and I am amazed at how stupid some rich people are. Wealth and success seems to make some people stupider, in fact, and that idiocy passes on to their children. Maybe I'm too sensitive on this subject, because I realize I grew up as a relatively privileged child... I'd even describe myself as spoiled. And, maybe that is one of the reasons I am so touched by Victor Hugo's description of success.

Greatness in this world requires so much more than money, power, success, or mass appeal. It requires self-control and development of real talent and supremacy. It will require me to improve myself and become a better person all around... no matter how much money I make.

Don't get me wrong... I'd like to be successful. But, my primary definition of success will have very little to do with my personal balance sheet. Maybe I can attain "heaven's radiant stars"... and not just be a duck's footprint in the mud.

That is all.


(Hugo, Victor. trans. Lee Fabnestock and Norman MacAfee. 1987 Les Miserables. New York: Signet Classic. 51-2)


Ethan said...

Glad to see you writing more. Keep it up.


K.Pete said...

Ooh - I like this post a lot. I know a lot of stupid rich people too!

Chi-hang Hui said...

Came across your entry as I searched online for the exact quotation of that part. That part was amazing, albeit long-winded, highlighting the superficiality of men...

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