In my second commentary on William Ferraiolo’s Meditations on Self-Discipline and Failure I focus on Book XI, 10.
How often have you thought yourself superior in intellect, in physique, or in moral rectitude than some “poor wretch”? This is a compound perversity. Are these attitudes not, at root, directed at self-aggrandizement? Every time you contemplate your “superiority,” you verify your inadequacy. A genius does not need to make a show of…an obvious intellectual superiority, any more than a giant needs to convince others, or himself, of his vastly loftier height.
Posturing is something we’ve all done many times, and I think Ferraiolo cuts to the core of what this is about.
I’ve done my share of showing off a bit of knowledge—or more accurately, trivia—because I was worried that the people around me might not think I’m as smart as they are.
Of course, that’s based on my projections about their thoughts. How can I really know what they’re thinking? And so what if they think I’m not as smart as them? Maybe they’re right. Even if they’re not I still have no control over their thoughts.
But posturing, it seems to me, is most often about jockeying for a higher spot in the social hierarchy because we feel like our status is lower than it should be.
Status, if we’re honest, is important to all of us. But from a Stoic perspective status is indifferent. Status might be something I prefer, but it won’t make me a better person. Status can be used for the good of others or it can be used to exploit others. Low status also is indifferent because it neither helps nor hinders an ethical lifestyle.