Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All Is Vanity

Sometimes I like to think that what I am doing actually matters. That in the long run my activities and pursuits will make a difference in my life and the lives of others. In this I may probably be far off the mark.

A wise man once wrote that all the strivings and machinations of mankind can be deduced down into a single word: vanity. Imagine if you can a world without vanity. Would there be beauty, modern art, neo-Classical architecture, empires, or...make-up? I would argue that the chief objective behind the majority of the world's so-called beauty is vanity. One man seeking to establish his name, his works, and his glory above the rabble. And yet the term has achieved a negative connotation in today's modern society. Our culture is obsessed with individuals that reek of this kind of vanity and yet make every effort to avoid the term in and of itself. Why is that? Why can't people just open up and admit to the world that they. are. vain...

In his memoirs, Albert Speer, chief architect inside Hitler's Third Reich, speaks to the vanity that wove itself into the pompous and bombast designs of Hitler's new Chancellery, Reichstag, and palatial palace. It's dimensions were enormous, with the new government building designed to house several American Capitol buildings within itself. Yet what Speer ultimately found, and what most individuals who are likewise engorged upon their own self-worth often find, was that colossally large buildings (or ego's) are hideous to behold, a blemish upon the landscape, and produce the opposite effect of what was intended. Instead of beauty, repugnance. Instead of joy, loathing.

I am guilty of this. So often I strive to achieve for the sole purpose of getting...bigger. Which is ironic because I am already a very little guy. Perhaps if I got X job, my life would have value, maybe if I did Y workout plan I would finally achieve that look that I think might make me happy, if only I go to Z number of parties I will finally be popular...but to what purpose does this vanity exist? I often find that the more I achieve the larger the disparity is between my happiness and the sense of value I get for accomplishing a vain pursuit. I got the job. Hooray! Now I can...what? Make money, feel better about myself, buy that car that I always wanted?

We have been raised as Americans to believe that we should always be striving for the bigger and better. This individualistic mindset is not wrong, simply misleading, because it assumes that once we have achieved, that once we have succeeded, then at the end of that very long tunnel is tremendous satisfaction and joy. And yet we know this is not the truth. There is a reason why money can't buy happiness, and why the world's most ostensibly successful people have such low self-worth and joy. Despite what our culture tells us, we will never find satisfaction through vanity. In fact when we get what we want, when ourselves have become so inflated by success and power and numerous other vain pursuits, it is then we feel that creeping despair and futility of the life we knew take hold. The world and all of it's appeal is based on a system of hollow vanity that leads to nowhere but misery.

I am dumbfounded that I still strive to excel in a system that I know leads to nowhere. My hope is that one day I will live for others, that my ambitions originate from a desire to better mankind rather than to better myself. In a world where people vainly look for ways to make themselves happy, maybe looking for ways to make other people happy could actually make a difference. Maybe then I'll be doing something that matters. 

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