Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Let us repair to the wild English hearth of 1821, where William Hazlitt is contemplating contemplation.
"I never was in a better place or humour than I am at present for writing on this subject," Hazlitt reports from Winterslow Hut. "I have a partridge getting ready for my supper, my fire is blazing on the hearth."
From there, Hazlitt tackles a source of much human misery -- the "troublesome effort to ensure the admiration of others." How better, he says, "to be satisfied with one's own thoughts." His essay is titled "On Living to One's-Self."
Little could he anticipate the hours we would spend on Twitter, counting up followers and fretting about Klout scores. Am I loved, disliked, feared, respected? Twitter, Twitter, on the wall, who's most favored of them all?
Oh, the burden of shooting out 140-character bursts of chitchat just to stay in the public eye. Then there's the obligation to engage in phony-friendly banter. Among the many self-serving posts, one must sprinkle selfless bits of advice and personal revelation -- to sound genuine.
If one insists on speaking from the heart, one risks revealing dark and unpopular thoughts. Beware the candid remark released in a moment of sleep-deprived stress. Friends will turn on you. Even on a good day, nameless enemies (competitors?) may say false and defamatory things about you from behind a curtain of anonymity.
All across social media, one's performance is judged by "success metrics" -- quantifiable evidence of one's importance to the world. They include time visitors spend on one's website, the number of clicks it gets, how many Facebook "likes" and Twitter "favorites" one gets, and the extent of buzz generated by one's blog posts.
Of course, Hazlitt had no access to today's online media. But he did spend much time in hyper-social 19th-century London, where business and creative types primped and strutted in a quest for public esteem. They, too, worried about getting "influencers" aboard their admiration train.
"I have seen a celebrated talker of our own time turn pale and go out of the room when a showy-looking girl has come into it, who for a moment divided the attention of his hearers," Hazlitt writes. He describes an actor at the top of his profession, who is "in a state of alarm at every appearance or rumour of the appearance of a new actor."
When a man "undertakes to play a part on the stage, and to persuade the world to think more about him than they do about themselves," Hazlitt writes, "he is got into a track where he will find nothing but briars and thorns, vexation and disappointment."
Recall the desperation of the disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner, who accidentally tweeted a crotch picture of himself to his 45,000 followers. The New York Democrat later confessed that he virtually lived on Facebook and Twitter, trying to see what people thought of him.
(Some public figures now hire companies to create thousands of phantom followers. So much for the sanctity of Klout scores.)
Hazlitt's objective, he says, "is to be a silent spectator of the mighty scene of things, not an object of attention or curiosity in it."
He goes on: "Even in the common affairs of life, in love, friendship, and marriage, how little security have we when we trust our happiness in the hands of others!"
A man living wisely to himself "is free as air, and independent as the wind," Hazlitt adds. Gone is "the desire to shine and make holiday in the eyes of others." And we who follow that path know the peace of "retiring within ourselves and keeping our wishes and our thoughts at home!"
Amen -- or, as the yogis might put it, namaste.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at email@example.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com
COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary.
See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.