Communicating Value

The Master said, “If the search for riches is sure to be successful, though I should become a groom with whip in hand to get them, I will do so. As the search may not be successful, I will follow after that which I love.”
– Confucius, the Analects (7:12)

The previous article declared that:

the idealist dream is to find a way of earning a reasonable living without compromising his ideals.

But this ‘dream’ is itself a form of compromise, in recognition of a fundamental divide between wealth and ideals.

In comments on the previous article, Jack Saunsea presented a different angle on this intersection of wealth and ideals:

For me, the question is not whether or not my “idealistic” endeavors can be used to make money; rather, if I do find them valuable, as is it likely I would find them to be the most valuable, am I communicating their value to others? Are others finding them valuable? If others do find them valuable, then my needs in life, whether being provided through monetary gain or simply through the relationships that the value I offer benefits, will be met.

This is, quite appropriately, an ideal vision of how to make a living. Rather than seek a compromise between the pursuit of ideals and the need for wealth, Jack has identified what they have in common: value. Both money and ideals are premised on value, value to oneself and value to others in relationship. The exchange of money for goods and services can be further summarised as an exchange on the basis of perceived value.

Indeed, there are plentiful examples of talented artists or craftsmen – idealists who do excellent work but fall into the melancholic trap of doubting the objective value of their creation. Their failure to set an appropriate price for their time and labour arguably reflects a general failure to honour and communicate the value of their work. Melancholics are typically more afraid of over-promising than under-selling, confident that the true value of their ideals and creations will shine through in the end.

But what if it doesn’t? Or rather, what if we are neglecting to examine how we communicate the worth of our ideals? It is typically idealistic to think ‘let the results speak for themselves’, but the reality is that we ourselves are a part of that ‘result’. The melancholic harbours a fear, or better yet: a self-consciousness, that he is a poor exemplar of the ideals he values, and that presenting himself as a product of his ideals will somehow tarnish those cherished ideals in the eyes of others. He will experience shame and humiliation, something the melancholic dreads.

As we discussed in the previous post, it is in the nature of most skills and disciplines that as we make progress, we find that there is always more progress to be made. By its very nature, attaining skill makes one more aware of the greater horizons and hence the limitations of whatever skill is attained. This is especially true of philosophy, where the search for answers brings with it an ever expanding awareness of the unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions.

It is counter-intuitive for someone in the midst of their philosophical journey to turn to others and say “You see how much I have gained? You see the skills I have developed and the rewards those skills have brought me? You see how satisfied I am in my pursuit of philosophy?”
Instead the philosopher is intent on the horizon, on the limits of his understanding. It is hard for someone always focusing on his limits to start telling others about his strengths.

But the answer may lie, as Jack suggests, not in telling others how great you are and how philosophy or some other ideal made you popular, famous, rich, and attractive; but in taking stock of how the yet-unattained ideal has enriched your life and brought value to it. You may not have answers to your philosophical questions, but you have the great enjoyment of losing yourself in the consideration of matters far beyond the trivia of everyday life. If that is something you value, perhaps you can do a better job of conveying it to others?

And if you find (to your melancholic horror) that you are not, for example, an impressive exponent of your martial art or a thrilling performer of your ancient chant, perhaps it is time to consider whether you have directed sufficient time and effort toward achieving -or better yet: expressing– in your own person the things you value in your discipline? It is, after all, typical of the melancholic idealist to forget in private enjoyment of his interests that there is a value in communicating that enjoyment to others; and that letting the results speak for themselves can mean, at times, that you are the one doing the speaking.


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