It’s a curious thing how we look for success and happiness through the eyes of other people. By doing so we question the inherent value of those things we so ardently pursue. A man and his wife buy a house full of furniture and pay a dear price for it. But just owning it is rarely enough. To get their money’s worth they must show it off and if possible make acquaintances envious. Thus they make tacit admission of being oversold.
Education is certainly a case in point. No one questions the value of his education more than the pedant. For him the expanding of his mind, the pursuit of truth, is not enough. He must impress people. A degree is something to club people into submission. He becomes a “concept dropper.” His learning must be negotiable; he must get something for it. The values that it should have had have escaped him or else failed to satisfy him.
Jesus was very much concerned with this principle. Even in religion people tend to find value only in the eyes of others. Take the man who does his alms to be seen of men, or the one who stands on the street corner and prays. They have tried religion and given up on it. So they seek to exploit it. Maybe they decide they can at least get some satisfaction in having the appearance of being religious. Unfortunately the more they subvert religion to this end, the more they are frustrated in ever understanding its true value.
A slightly more sophisticated ruse but just as decadent is the one encouraged by many well-meaning preachers. They tell church members to be good and virtuous in order that others might be impressed and be converted. Goodness and virtue are to become our conspirators. Rather, they should tell us never to be good for anybody. Or, as my father used to say, “Be good for nothing!” Virtue is its own justification. The fact that others are converted by goodness should be the effect and not the cause. Else if virtue does not have value that inheres, why convert anyone to it?
What primary value is there in what other people think of you? Precious little really. In the first place they’re probably wrong. I’m not even competent to judge myself much less someone else. In the second place suppose I could deceive them into thinking that I am enormously talented or really well educated or more religious than I actually am: what good would it do? For the fact of what I really am always remains. I know. Next to this everything is superfluity.
It is not the man who overrates me who does me a favor. If I have any sense I will stay away from pedestals. It is wise to have a certain acrophobia. The heaviest burden anyone carries is an illusion about himself. My real benefactor is the one who calls attention to all my deficiencies. If you would be my friend know me for what I am and forgive me for it.
I heard of a man who was a pearl merchant. He found one pearl that was exceedingly valuable so he sold all that he had and purchased that one pearl of great price. At first the pearl with all its beauty and celestial splendor brought him happiness. But he forgot that happiness, like the kingdom of heaven, is within. So he put the pearl of great price in a sideshow and charged six bits a look.
The terrible danger in seeking success through the eyes of other people is that we end up by adopting their values and standards. The more ambitious I am to succeed outside myself the more vulnerable I am within. There occurs an inevitable erosion of principles. It is far better to spend your genius coming to terms with yourself. Forget about the consequences. Just plant. Someone else will water. And God will give the increase.