Integrity27 July 2010
“Sandalwood is considered the epitome of excellence, imparting fragrance even to the axe that cuts it.” The Hindu Vedas
Are you good at what you do? Or are you just good at appearing to be good at what you do? Those who fall into the former category are the Sandalwoods of this world. Those who fall into the latter category are good at what they do (or appear to be anyway) in only very specific circumstances.
In most disciplines, generally speaking, we have control over both the context in which our work is encountered and by whom. If we lack the skill to solve the problem laid out to us then it is possible for us to manipulate the context, and thus the problem, into one which we do know how to solve. Or failing that maybe we can borrow someone else’s solution, tweak it a little and attempt to ensure that none of the original problem solver’s fans see what you’ve done. It all comes down to our ability to authentically respond to the utterly unique nuances of an individual problem. What differentiates the master from the amateur is that the master can conjure, seemingly from nowhere, a response that is as unique as the problem, perfectly matching, without shortage or excess, the precise nature of the question posed to them. The amateur however, struggles and must fall back on mere mannerisms, clichés and set-pieces.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an amateur, it is a most worthy stage to find oneself, the concern is those that habit this phase yet claim, whether implicitly or explicitly, to be otherwise. The work of a master is a joy to behold, it oozes confidence, it invites scrutiny at every turn, no detail has been left unaccounted for. To achieve such a level of mastery one’s skill must have been truly taken to heart, to have saturated every facet of one’s life. Such a person spares not a single thought for how their solution might be criticised by others, because they know it is self-consistent in every aspect.
If you have expended any of your energy on the appearance of your solution — rather than on the core of the solution itself — then you will inevitably squirm and whine when faced with critical scrutiny; the inherent contradiction in it will be exposed and there is truly nothing uglier. However when the axe of scrutiny slices at the work of true skill then there is nothing to fear, not a single aspect of its nature could ever reveal discrepancy. In fact the deeper the axe penetrates, the sweeter the scent of integrity that wafts through the air.
Real-life Human Beings
I’m not against the whole Web 2.0 bandwagon, in fact I quite like the term and what it stands for. Let me just distil one feature of this widely recognised paradigm shift; namely the relocation of the web’s centre of gravity from the privileged elite of rich and clever developers to the everyman of good, honest and humble users. Facebook, Wikipedia, Blogs, Youtube, Twitter; it’s all about the users creating that which we find most engaging and valuable on the Net. Now the interesting thing here is that complimentary to this user-centered shift there’s been a simultaneous increase in the authenticity of the Net as a genuine medium of expression — we can date, make friends, lose friends, chat, hate, laugh and cry all the more easily because we can express ourselves all the more easily, warts and all. However, there’s something historical — and perhaps internally cultural — about the Net that encourages a re-imagination of our identities; think alter egos, exotic username handles, fantasy worlds and such like.
So whereas you hear a lot about the Net becoming more and more a social phenomenon, you hear very little about the Net as a bastion of the benefits of being involved in a society. In fact, more often you hear the opposite; parents complaining that their children don’t spend enough time with real children, for example. I would like to think however, that this is not so much a symptom of the Net itself, but more a reflection of the human desire to appear in the best possible light. The Net, more than any other medium, allows us to control both the context of how we are perceived and who perceives us and many of us choose to take advantage of this fact. Which I believe means we can choose otherwise.
Instead of re-inventing ourselves in cyberspace we are allowed to just be ourselves, to be real-life human beings. We don’t need to hide or censor anything. In fact, on the Net honesty is recognised as a valuable currency just as much as it is everywhere else. The deciding factor isn’t so much the medium or the context through which we choose to express ourselves but the intention that we cultivate within our own inner worlds. We have a choice to actually be a likeable person, rather than just appear to be a likeable person. This is a personal and universal choice and one that applies unconditionally, no matter the context.