Responses to Venky's Second Question:
Can It Ever Be Right to Sacrifice Your Self Respect in the Short Term for the Possibility of Tremendous Financial Gain in the Long Run?

Note to the Reader: This is a group of recent reader responses to the first and second questions that our friend Venky has asked. For a refresher on what the questions are, look back at the Philosophers' Corner index.

Response from Ethan Sullivan, Graduate Student in Philosophy, New York University

As a graduate student of philosophy at NYU, I find your work interesting, enlightening, and refreshing. I have met too many philosophers who, in my opinion, over-analyze life.

I have also read with interest Venky's first question on your website, the one which asks: "As long as you have more good traits than bad ones, is it okay?". It reminded me of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, with it's claim that "It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." This also relates to Venky's second question. As Mill later states:

"Capacity for the nobler feelings is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance; and in the majority of young persons it speedily dies away if the occupations to which their position in life has devoted them, and the society into which it has it thrown them, are not favorable to keeping that higher capacity in exercise."

This, in turn, is very important to me, and reminds me of the first chapter of your book, "If Aristotle Ran General Motors." You talk about the local South Bend Business person who first asked you to speak to her colleagues because she found herself getting away from the real issues. As she so simply and eloquently said, "We all need a little philosophy in our lives."

Again, you are an inspiration. As a young and budding student of philosophy, you have given me hope, promise, direction, and have reconfirmed the sacrifices that I have made in the love and pursuit of knowledge. Even though you were a Notre Dame professor and I was an undergrad at Boston College, I still like you. Keep up the great work!

Ethan Sullivan

Response from a Reader in Ohio

Why have I waited so long to return to your web site? You don't have to answer that question.

But, tell Venky that his first question is answered quite well by a simple country song I found on the original "Trio" album by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. It also addresses his related second question. It's called "Farther Along" and the theme is that eventually (in the great beyond, or when we achieve a sufficient degree of wisdom etc...), we will all understand why so many rotten people seem to do so much of the "winning" in the world, while those of us who follow the rules sometimes lag behind. Venky will just have to wait 'til he gets there.

In the meantime, he needs to know that we can only see the exterior of these "winners" and we have no idea what they are hiding inside. I know that whatever IT is, it ain't as good as it looks from the outside.

Long ago my husband and I decided we didn't want to play the game. We worked, doing what we liked most of the time, what we had to when we had to, and filled our free time with exactly what we wanted. We are far from rich, although we are comfortable. Could we have traveled more? Could we have a larger retirement account? Nicer cars? More expensive STUFF? Yes, of course. Would it have been worth it? NO!!!! Are we happy? Blissfully. My husband turns 50 in September, I'm almost 52, we've been married almost 24 years. Our 16 year old daughter is a wonderful kid.

Who won, Venky?
Lee Merecicky, A Reader from Ohio

This Reader Says More

My initial reaction to Venky's scenario in his second question was that his friend was making a huge mistake. But, giving it more thought I realized that even if it is a mistake, the man is probably educated and marketable, and he can reverse course if the outcome is as bad as it looks like it might be. Venky has said this is not an illegal enterprise, so his friend is only at risk of having to do something loathsome. He still has the chance to say "no" if it turns out to be something he can't live with later.

And as far as "sucking up" to the boss goes, a person with good self-esteem should be able to play the silly games that power mongers set up, knowing that a game is all it is. The boss will be the only one thinking that his employees honor and respect him. Everyone else, including Venky's friend, will know that the employer is a wealthy blowhard who has to pay people to meet his needs.

There are plenty of those guys out there. People envy them their money, but ridicule and despise them otherwise. The Emperor's New Clothes comes to mind, as does Ross Perot. Bottom line: Your self-respect is exactly that - SELF respect! You are always in control and can choose to lose it, keep it, or even regain it if you've made that big mistake.
Lee Merecicky

Response from Francis Landreaux, Graduate Student in Philosophy and long time financial adviser

I have read all the responses to Venky. (This is a pleasant distraction from reading Husserl.) I want to make one comment, which is a "take-off" on your fine statement: "True success always involves discovering your talents, developing those talents, and putting them to use for the good of others as well as yourself through a process of setting and attaining proper goals. It is something that is both deeply satisfying and in principle sustainable. It is also shared."

My personal experience tells me that you are "dead on" here in your analysis of success. Success comes from first "knowing one's self" which necessairly involves the experience of achievement and disappointment, in order to discover talents. Once the talents are discovered, success is derived by development of the talents. If the development is done well, satisfying achievement is possible because one is taking on tasks that one is qualified to achieve, since the individual is playing on talent and developed strength.

Granted, an individual's living situation will always pose some degree of unexpected challenge. Yet, within the aware and talented individual there iscongruence with both interior strength and worldly possibility. The truly successful person will not attempt to undertake what is intuitively impossible forhim or her alone. The wise seek and acquire assistance from others to achieve what for them alone is impossible.

I believe that we can find adequate evidence for the claim that Venky's "killer instincts": egotism, arrogance, power display, wealth flaunting, unforgiveness, omnipotence, and controlling, can in some way be related to one's being "unfully aware" of one's talents and trying to compensate for the insecurity of being in-over-one's-head. In our society, "fake it till you make it" has carried many, very far. And projecting the symbols of success is big business, and a social virtue.

In closing these brief thoughts, I would express the point I am trying to make differently with the question: Does it not come down to loving one's self in a healthy way? By this I mean becoming aware of our personal talents, developing them well, and positioningourselves for effective action in our work, projects, and relationships. What is most striking to me is that there is little emphasis in our society for genuine self love and appreciation, which leads to love and appreciation of others and generates integrity, passion, focus, analytical thinking, and vision. Somehow our society, especially business, expects the above qualities to spring sui generis et causa sui! Thus we see so many reading the pop psychologists: proclaiming "attitude and self esteem", while paying the goofiest of therapists (who in their own lives are some of the most miserable and unsuccessful individuals) big bucks! I would conclude by agreeing that in the end "killer instincts" are exactly what they are described to be: killers.

Thanks for the chance to reflect on this,
Francis Landreaux


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