On Being Successful

In a recent professional football game involving the Pittsburg Steelers, one of Pittsburg’s defensive backs suffered a spinal injury because of a head-on tackle in which he exhibited poor technique. He lay moaning on the ground for minutes until he was carted away and sent to the hospital. As of this writing he has had back surgery and is still being observed by the medical experts to see if there is any permanent damage. If there is, it certainly wouldn’t be the first such case. And it will almost certainly not be the last.

This set the networks abuzz with talk about how brutal a game is football — at all levels — and had many a talking head on television wondering what more could be done to prevent further injuries. The NFL is already concerned about concussions, which have had serious consequences for many retired football players; equipment has been improved and there is a great deal more caution after a possible head-on collision than there once was.

In any event, one of the Steelers was interviewed on ESPN and defended his sport despite its violence — trying to calm the waters and assure people that the game is not “brutal” and it would go on. I will not mention his name (because I can’t remember it!) but it matters not. His somewhat disjointed comments defended the sport which he loves because it has enhanced his “family legacy,” i.e., it has made him an immensely wealthy man. There was more to his comments than this, but this was the gist of what he said. And it raises a number of questions.

To begin with, it is a non-sequitur because the violence of the game cannot be dismissed because it makes a number of men very wealthy. In addition, of course, the comments were all about the player himself with little mention of his teammate who lay in a hospital bed trying to recover from a very painful injury. But, more to the point, we heard once again the All-American mantra that identifies success with wealth (his “family legacy”). To be a successful person in this country one must be  tremendously wealthy. Those who dedicate themselves to the well-being of others and make sacrifices every day to make sure that others are healthy and happy, or perhaps simply better informed, are not regarded as successful — unless they can brag about their bank accounts and show you their expensive cars and their overpriced, palatial homes. This is absurd.

In his lectures on sincerity and authenticity, Lionel Trilling points out that the West has struggled for many years with the concept of authenticity, the notion that human beings are truly human when they have achieved not wealth but authenticity: when they are who they truly are. Trilling  focuses on Jean Paul Sartre who spent many pages in his Being and Nothingness talking about “Bad Faith,” the tendency of people — all people — to play roles, to pretend to be someone they are not.  To an extent, Sartre would insist, society demands that we do so. But this does not alter the fact that we wear masks.

Trilling points out that true authenticity has to do with being, not about having. He quotes Oscar Wilde who insisted that “The true perfection of man lies not in what man has but in what man is.” We are truly human when we achieve autonomy, when we are self-directed, not when we become wealthy. In fact, money has nothing whatever to do with it. He notes that this popular misconception, this false identification of wealth with success, stems from the confusion of having with being: it is a type of inauthenticity. We are not what we have; we are what we are within ourselves and in relation to others.

It is not likely that our notion of success, insisting that success is identified with what we have, will change. But it is quite likely that the storm over the violence in America’s most popular sport will quiet down and there will be more injuries in the future. Is it just possible that this is a good thing because it allows Americans to get vicarious pleasure from a violent sport that releases some of the pent-up frustration resulting from lives spent pursuing wealth which they identify with success — though they sense dimly that there is something terribly wrong somewhere?

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18 thoughts on “On Being Successful

  1. ” true authenticity has to do with being, not about having. He quotes Oscar Wilde who insisted that “The true perfection of man lies not in what man has but in what man is.” We are truly human when we achieve autonomy, when we are self-directed, not when we become wealthy. In fact, money has nothing whatever to do with it. ”

    The above should be posted above every water cooler, every elevator button, or stuck to the refrigerator door!

    • Thank you, Lisa (Playamart – Zeebra Designs), for resonating with Hugh who has explicated the ongoing dichotomy of having and being, and the resulting ramifications. In my assessment, the penultimate paragraph is the best as it is the crux of this post:

      Trilling points out that true authenticity has to do with being, not about having. He quotes Oscar Wilde who insisted that “The true perfection of man lies not in what man has but in what man is.” We are truly human when we achieve autonomy, when we are self-directed, not when we become wealthy. In fact, money has nothing whatever to do with it. He notes that this popular misconception, this false identification of wealth with success, stems from the confusion of having with being: it is a type of inauthenticity. We are not what we have; we are what we are within ourselves and in relation to others.

      The second-best paragraph is the paragraph that precedes the penultimate paragraph:

      In his lectures on sincerity and authenticity, Lionel Trilling points out that the West has struggled for many years with the concept of authenticity, the notion that human beings are truly human when they have achieved not wealth but authenticity: when they are who they truly are. Trilling focuses on Jean Paul Sartre who spent many pages in his Being and Nothingness talking about “Bad Faith,” the tendency of people — all people — to play roles, to pretend to be someone they are not. To an extent, Sartre would insist, society demands that we do so. But this does not alter the fact that we wear masks.

      Hugh, I would like to recommend the inclusion of weblinks and/or endnote citations to provide resources or references to Lionel Trilling, Jean Paul Sartre and Oscar Wilde to further benefit your readers.

      Undoubtedly, the privileging of having over being is so prevalent that it has taken over many societies via rampant consumerism and the pursuit of wealth and fame. Something else that is comparably egregious and insidious is the common belief and tacit assumption that anyone or everyone can achieve anything (equally well) if they work for it and persist. This is discussed in my post at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/soundeagle-in-best-moment-award-from-moment-matters/

  2. Thanks for the thought provoking post. Your assertion begs the question “what is man?” You use the terms autonomy and self directed, but I don’t necessarily know what these terms mean. I am afraid that when humans achieve autonomy and self direction they will only continue in the pursuit of wealth and power. What men need to recognize is who they are in relation to their Creator. Only then can their motives and actions have a purpose besides glorifying themselves.

    • To be autonomous and self-directed is to be free from outside influences — like the temptations of wealth and power. Wealth and power are how society measures success; this is not how an autonomous person measures it. And this does not rule out a close “relation to their Creator.” Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hugh, this topic leads me down a couple of paths of responses. Let me focus on the money making violence of the NFL. In short, we have wealthy owners signing up men who will play a violent sport for our amusement. The owners endure and make lasting money and fame. The players do make some money, often very good, but if they do not invest wisely they could be SOOL.

    The movie “Concussion” that the NFL did not want folks to see reveals the insincerity and hypocrisy of the league. Now, I believe they are pretending to care more than they do about the players because they are expendable.

    Trust me, I love watching football, but too often observe players trying to head hunt and hurt other players. The only way for the game to survive is to outlaw head hits. No high tech helmets can prevent the scrambling of the brain with each head hit. The sad part is the head hits are engrained in the game.

    Keith

    • Hello Keith! It is very nice to find you here too.

      The science on concussion is irrefutable not just in NFL but also in other contact sports such as boxing. Whilst gymnastics, high diving, figure skating and so on can potentially result in severe injuries, they do not present frequent, repetitive or intentional impacts to the head and/or other vulnerable parts of the body. To many discerning and reasonable persons, many gladiatorial sports are deplorable remnants of tribal or factional culture at play.

      I would also like to add that the previleging of having over being is so prevalent that it has taken over many societies via rampant consumerism and the persuit of wealth and fame. Something else that is comparably eggregious and insidious is the common belief and tacit assumption that anyone or everyone can achieve anything (equally well) if they work for it and persist. This is discussed in my post at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/soundeagle-in-best-moment-award-from-moment-matters/

      Thank you, Hugh, for sharing this fantastic post with us!

    • Please excuse my typos in the final paragraph of my earlier comment. Here it is, corrected:

      I would also like to add that the privileging of having over being is so prevalent that it has taken over many societies via rampant consumerism and the pursuit of wealth and fame. Something else that is comparably egregious and insidious is the common belief and tacit assumption that anyone or everyone can achieve anything (equally well) if they work for it and persist. This is discussed in my post at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/soundeagle-in-best-moment-award-from-moment-matters/

  4. Pingback: 🦅 SoundEagle in Best Moment Award from Moment Matters 🔖🏆 | 🦅 SoundEagle

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