“Society is necessary, yet inevitably corrupting.” This is a theme that appears repeatedly in Joseph Conrad’s novels, according literary critic David Daiches. One of the worst things that can happen to us is to be destined to live in a society that blatantly refuses to recognise our achievements. It becomes worse still when there is a concerted attempt to belittle us for reasons like jealousy.
The plain truth is that we all seek to be loved by the world whether we admit it or not. We need the attention of other people though it may not be in the form of love. The human ego is a “leaky balloon, forever requiring helium of external love to remain inflated, and ever vulnerable to the smallest pinpricks of neglect,” as Alain de Bottom said in his book Status Anxiety.
Society is the place where we get that indispensable helium from. When we buy a car that’s better than the neighbour’s or send our child to a better school, we are in fact inflating the ego-balloon. According to psychologist Festinger’s social comparison theory, we compare ourselves to others because there is no objective yardstick to evaluate our ego against. How do I know I’m a good writer unless I compare my writing with others’ writings? Or if other people don’t tell me that I am indeed good?
Yesterday, a person whom destiny brought into the higher echelons of my professional life made certain public remarks which obliquely sought to belittle my achievements. The consolation offered by a colleague that jealousy was the cause of the remarks did help much in my effort to patch up the pinprick in my ego-balloon. But a question began to dominate my thinking: does public opinion really matter?
The answer is what I have written so far. But that fails to help me let go the ego-balloon. Albert Camus, one of the novelists and philosophers who moulded my thinking significantly, comes to better aid. He said, “To be happy one must not be too concerned with the opinion of others. One should pursue one’s goals single-mindedly, with a quiet confidence, without thinking of others.”
I don’t find it hard to follow that advice, in fact. The only problem is that there are a few Iagos that encroach on our diminutive space with wilful malevolence. I guess that’s called destiny.