Speaker: Alain de Botton
Date: July 2009
Location: Oxford, England
Description from TED website:
Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work.
My Review / Notes / Thoughts
Is your concept of success actually yours? Or is it something you’ve unknowingly taken on because of outside sources?
These are the questions that have lingered in my mind since watching this video.
Alain talks about how we are surrounded by “snobs” – which he defines as a global phenomenon and is “anybody who takes a small part of you, and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are.” He goes on to state that the most common type of snobbery we see is job snobbery – where people ask “what do you do?” and come to a conclusion about who you are.
He also provides the audience with the definition of the opposite of a snob, which he says is the “ideal mother” or someone “who doesn’t care about your achievements.” In other words, someone who has love – in the most general sense of the word – or respect for you.
Since most people we know will fall into the first category, we can understand why people care so much about their careers and what they possess. He states that “we live in a society which has simply pegged certain emotional rewards to the acquisition of material goods. It’s not the material goods we want; it’s the rewards we want.”
The next time you see somebody driving a Ferrari, don't think, “This is somebody who's greedy.” Think, “This is somebody who is incredibly vulnerable and in need of love.” Feel sympathy, rather than contempt.
He continues on to discuss the issue of equality and envy – which he believes are is linked to one another. It’s hard to be envious of someone who is extremely different from you, however, the closer you are in age, background, etc. to someone, the easier it is to become envious of that person. Based on this, he states that “none of you should ever go to a school reunion.”
Unfortunately, society tells us that anyone of us can succeed in life and that anything is possible. This creates a breeding ground for envy. Alain points out that you can go into a bookstore and see the results of these issues in society, just by going to the self-help section. There are two categories of self-help that he points out to the audience. The first is the self-help book that tells its readers that anything is possible. The second is how to deal with low self-esteem (which is a result of not being able to do ‘everything’).
“It’s a sin to judge any man by his post.”
– St. Augustine in “The City of God”
Alain says that a way to translate this quote is to “hold your horses when you’re coming to judge people.” After all, how can we know from someone’s job or action, what their true value or worth is?
He goes on to talk about how we need to learn from tragic art – i.e., plays from ancient Greece. Where people in the stories make bad decisions, and conger up feelings of sympathy from the audience. In contrast, if someone in real life made those decisions they would face ridicule and scorn. In other words, he is saying that we need to be more sympathetic to those around us, those that make bad decisions. We don’t always know the whole story, we need to keep an open mind and don’t judge them based on one wrong choice or action.
But when you sum up all Alain has to say (which is more than I’ve covered here), you start to question your own concept of what “success” is to you. Is your idea or definition of success actually yours? Or has society dictated it to you?
With everything going on in society today, with high levels of stress and anxiety, perhaps it is time to take a step back and re-evaluate our own beliefs when it comes to success and failure. Are we jumping to judging others without knowing what their backstory is? Just because society says to believe one way, doesn’t mean you have to – nor should you.
Take some time, take a step back, and thoughtfully evaluate the emotions, actions, etc. surrounding the situation before you respond.
If you haven’t had a chance, please go and watch the video. There is much more there (including humor) that was not covered in my recap.
Continue to evaluate, research, and learn!