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Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Use your flaws to become a better person next year

Opinion | Use your flaws to become a better person next year

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To venerate virtues that are external to us and suppress our flaws is to deny who we really are

Most people want to become better people. To this end, they listen to some people who tell them that they can become better by cultivating good habits: Touch your toes, read more, work hard, bend your back, shut your eyes and listen to your own breath and have no thoughts, including the thought that you are having no thoughts, eat less, quit grains, quit smoking, quit sugar, never have a meal alone.

Most people want to become better people. To this end, they listen to some people who tell them that they can become better by cultivating good habits: Touch your toes, read more, work hard, bend your back, shut your eyes and listen to your own breath and have no thoughts, including the thought that you are having no thoughts, eat less, quit grains, quit smoking, quit sugar, never have a meal alone.

Good habits, the world is always telling us, are only possible through good qualities. But what if you have no good qualities? And what if the most famous good qualities in the world are merely the qualities of the gurus. Aren’t all the gurus only saying, “Be like me"? And, what if some of the good qualities actually do not exist at all outside the farce of language. As this column once argued, “discipline" is the false public front for complex private procedures. And what if, for many other reasons, you cannot attain healthy habits?

Good habits, the world is always telling us, are only possible through good qualities. But what if you have no good qualities? And what if the most famous good qualities in the world are merely the qualities of the gurus. Aren’t all the gurus only saying, “Be like me"? And, what if some of the good qualities actually do not exist at all outside the farce of language. As this column once argued, “discipline" is the false public front for complex private procedures. And what if, for many other reasons, you cannot attain healthy habits?

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To become a better person, should you become another person?

To venerate virtues that are external to us and suppress our innate flaws is to deny who we really are, and our true powers. (In fact, I think that some of evil itself might be the vestiges of a set of excellent qualities a child needed to survive childhood.)

In the new year, I propose that people try to achieve their goals not by trying to acquire good qualities they never had, but by exploiting their innate character flaws to do marvellous things.

Actually, people do use their flaws to attain their goals, just that they do not realize it or accept it. For instance, ambition, at its core, is a capacity for unhappiness. It is a ferocious current that can make a human body absorb considerable pain to attain a purely materialistic interest. This, of course, is the capitalist capacity for unhappiness. The leftist capacity for unhappiness is expressed as social service.

Much of successful activism is fuelled by many others flaws, too, like envy, a deep sense of failure, depression, delusion, charlatan male sexual tricks. And pure self-interest. There is self-interest that creates business, and self-interest of the elite that creates humanitarian unrest. Adam Smith erred in promoting “the invisible hand"; there are in reality two invisible hands—quite appropriately the left hand and the right hand.

Also, sexual greed in men is an underrated factor in the analysis of how men and women differ in their professional ambitions. Men know success can vastly increase the prospects of sex, and this drives them even when they think they are monogamous and loyal, and do not need many sexual partners. You don’t have to be married for ten years to realize that sex is chiefly a fantasy of sex.

So we do use our flaws, and even evil, to succeed, but there is something very dark about now knowing why we do what we do. To be ignorant of what has colonized our bodies is to be zombies. This is why we must secretly legitimize our great flaws and redirect them to become better.

The power of vanity: Some people have a great capacity for paying tributes to themselves. We can see evidence of modern vanity in the way people keep talking about themselves and the tireless articulation of their problems, what they are going through, what they are thinking and their overblown fears of the violation of their privacy. If people can accept they are vain, they will find the motivation to sculpt themselves into something they can truly be vain about. Vanity can make a slothful person wake up at dawn and run to the gym and make a non-reader read deeply. In fact, without vanity, without being closely acquainted with our own vanities, it is very difficult to perform some very healthy repetitive tasks.

Only the misanthrope has clarity: A good thing that has happened lately is that people have stopped pretending to be “objective". When they used to ask you to “be objective", what they really meant was “agree with me".

These are confused people, but there do exist objective people. The objective are not an ideological-type; they are a personality-type. Objectivity emerges from a beautiful character flaw. The truly objective are people who are misanthropes and cannot be colonized by social order, contagious virtue and hyper-morality. As a result, they see what others cannot.

And, how to use addictions: Some people are more prone to addictions than others. Instead of abolishing addiction, I feel they should just change the substance. Their addictive personalities present them with a great advantage if they can move away from easy forms of releasing endorphins, like intoxicants and maida, to more difficult forms like hard exercise and solving puzzles. For instance, most long-distance runners who are honest runners—that is runners who enjoy running more than talking about running—can pursue the sport only because they are addicted to it. Addictive running can be physically destructive, of course, but still less harmful and more useful than most common forms of addiction.

In a similar state are people with obsessive compulsive disorders. Such disorders can be used effectively to pursue difficult goals. For instance, a person who has to turn a door knob seven times when he shuts the door, or has to check the previous page-number every time he turns a page in a book, can also allow more useful tics to develop, like reading a dense scientific journal for exactly 57 minutes every day, or pumping iron for 37 minutes.

I wish you well in the new year. I wish others too.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’

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