Monday, July 1, 2013

Avoiding The Vice of Vanity


I was asked by an ecclesiastical leader to give a lesson on vanity, and where our priorities really lie in life. I don’t think I was especially qualified in this subject matter, but as always I found that the teacher is often the greatest beneficiary. I also found that my lesson plan was full of far more gems and platitudinous statements than I had time to share. Also, my audience was under 25 people. So, I decided to expound a little bit here, for we all have bouts with pride and vanity.

Stephen LaMarche defines vanity as the excessive belief in one’s own abilities or attractiveness to others. I personally am a huge advocate of personal confidence. I think it is important to believe in yourself and to seek to be attractive to the opposite sex. The tricky part is avoiding the excess, being extremely confident without engaging in obsession. Essentially the question is, how can we fastidiously maintain the perfect mustache without thinking that our debonair facial hair is the reason we are awesome, and perhaps better than others? Or adversely, how can someone painstakingly care for their skin with expensive oils and lotions without assuming their soft and luscious skin is the reason for the putative greatness? I think in one form or another we all struggle with this. Clearly humility is the anecdote, but this is does not make it an easy solution, just a simple one. C.S. Lewis so wisely posited that, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” There is nothing wrong with caring about our appearance or how others view us. We just want to be cautious, so that we do not fall into the same trap as Narcissus.

Narcisuss is a figure in Greek mythology, and the origin of the word narcissism- the fixation with oneself. Let us recount the tragic story of the beautiful Narcisuss. He was a hunter well known for his aesthetic appeal and pride. It was even said that he disdained those who loved him. The goddess Nemesis saw that Narcisuss was exceptionally proud and lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was nearly an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his own reflection, poor narcissistic Narcisuss perished. Much can be learned from the absurd vainglory of this individual. Obviously none of us are going to be so enthralled with our own image in a mirror that we fall in love with what we see, and refuse to leave the bathroom. Although what a great opportunity for some selfies. But at times we don’t act all that different from our troubled Narcissus.
With the advent of various social media it is very easy to become obsessed with how good we apparently look. If we wake up, put on a pair of skinny jeans and come to the realization that we look amazing, there are a dozen ways to share your prodigious beauty with others. You can post a picture of yourself on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, then maybe post a small video of yourself on Vine or Youtube, then send out some mass Snapchats and possibly send a slew of selfies to unsuspecting texters. And why do we do this? Because we become obsessed with ourselves and with the opinion of others. We become so wrapped up in people validating how attractive or how successful we are.

I personally love photographs and social media. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeling like a boss and flaunting it a little bit from time to time. I just think we need to be careful, so that we do not become slaves to ourselves. There are so many things in this world that just will not matter at the end of days. A girl in the Sunday school class I taught made an excellent point as to what really is important. She reminded us that one day we will stand before God at the judgment seat, and others we came across in this life will stand as witnesses against us for better or for worse. She said, do you really want someone saying, “Well I don’t know how important her family was to her, or how kind she was, but she sure always looked pretty.” What we think is so crucial to our existence truly is often very secondary and trivial in the grand scheme of things. I think looking good, staying fit, and being well liked are moderately important. But what really matters to me is my family, my relationships and my faith, things that well carry on with me into the vast eternities. C.S. Lewis said that, “Christianity, if false, if of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” So let us not waste our days pining over things of moderate importance. Let us obsess with and yearn for things of infinite importance.