"Most people are nothing and are considered nothing until they have dressed themselves up in general convictions and public opinions -- in accordance with the tailor philosophy: clothes make people. Of the exceptional person, however, it must be said: only he that wears it makes the costume; there opinions cease to be public and become something other than masks, finery, and disguises." ~ Friederich Nietzsche
Can you smile without a mask?
Certainly, it can be challenging to be authentic, especially when most other people are not. Pretentiousness is essential to speaking with the pretentious, which probably explains why I am not a large fan of business networking! It also explains why I am drawn to some of the greatest philosophers (e.g. Socrates, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard) who liked to press on others' being.
The reflective but prying questions from philosophers often appear as arrogance and can be received as an irritation; but is this not what the greatest of teachers do? To take into question the authenticity of others? Is it not the blunt stone that sharpens the blade? Is it not doubt in oneself that brings about certainty in oneself?
"We get so much in the habit of wearing disguises before others that we finally appear disguised before ourselves." ~ Francois de la Rochefoucauld
At social gatherings, I'm usually the guy sitting quietly in the corner of the room (if not standing next to my beautiful and electric wife!) sipping on a cocktail while listening to others ramble about their latest business accomplishment, how they made X dollars on an investment trade, or how their kid was accepted into some school for prodigies.
Inevitably, within this superficial exchange, I'll overhear something like, "So what do you do?" This is the juncture, of curiosity and the desire to compare oneself to others, that almost every human aspires to in social conversation.
There is nothing wrong with small talk but, being an extremely practical person, I find small talk to be only useful if it leads quickly to the verbal and meaningful exchange of intelligent thought.
In this light, let's have fun with a scenario that you may find useful...
This dialogue is between Philosopher (the Socratic questioner) and Other (the completely normal human being, acting within social conventions):
At the scene of a social gathering, after the initial greeting and ultra-superficial small talk...
Other: What do you do?
Philosopher: Be myself.
Other: What do you mean?
Philosopher: I'll answer with my own question. What do you look like under your mask?
Other: Is this some kind of joke? What mask?
Philosopher: I am speaking in a metaphorical sense. Most people wear a mask or a disguise, whether it is a conscious decision or not. Let me ask a few more similar questions for clarity: Who are you when you are not being pretentious in social settings or in your work environment? What do you do when no one else is looking? What career would you have chosen if social conventions didn't push you into 'business administration' because that's where the money is? When was the last time you really felt as if you were acting as your self? What would you do and how would you act if money were no object?
Other: Who the hell do you think you are, the social police? I am not pretentious and I don't wear a metaphorical mask!
Philosopher: I intend no offense by my questions and have no hidden agenda. Let me ask you, then, what do you do?
Philosopher: What makes you successful?
Other: To put it simply, if I stay on my current path, I will retire early in 10 years, at age 55.
Philosopher: Congratulations. What are your highest priorities?
Other: Do you mean my business goals?
Philosopher: No. I mean what do you value in life more than anything -- more than money?
Other: My family. I also love boating. When I am on the water, I feel completely free. No other thoughts enter my mind. It's like when I was a teenager, with no cares in the world.Philosopher: What would happen if you quit your job, started a business involving your boating, and spent more time with your family?
Other: I've thought of that before but my own boating business would likely generate less than half of my current income. I would love to do that but I'd never retire.
Philosopher: What will you do in retirement, in 10 years?
Other: Spend more time with family, although my kids would be grown, and spend more time on my boat.
Philosopher: For clarity, you are saying that, in retirement, you would spend more time with your family and on your boat?
Other: Yes. I am saying that.
Philosopher: And you are saying that you could potentially earn half the money with a boating business as you do now?
Other: Yes. I am saying that.
Philosopher: And you are saying that your current retirement goal is to save enough money so that you won't have to work anymore?
Other: Yes. I am saying that.
Philosopher: If your work was boating, would you consider it work?
Other: No. I would enjoy it -- work would be pleasure.
Philosopher: You've been successful at saving money. What if you started planning today and could begin your boating business within one year, could you support yourself and your family, combining your boating business income with your current savings?
Other: I believe I could but it would be risky.
Philosopher: Which is the greater risk: Not being yourself for 10 years but assuring financial stability -- or -- Being yourself now, and for the remainder of your life, with a small risk of financial instability?
Other: I'm not sure. What do you think I should do?
Philosopher: As you might guess, I will answer your question with a question: What do you look like under your mask?
Philosopher: What will you do now?
Other: [Gestures as if to take a mask off his face]: Be myself…
As the scene fades, we fast-forward to one year later and you see a man with his family on a boat making a toast to his new boating business….
Any suggestions on a name for the boat?
Top Image by Ngoc Ha