Friday, December 30, 2011

On Beauty, Personality and the Influence of Confidence

Beautiful Angelina Jolie in elegant dress with make-up

Although I fully subscribe to the idea of beauty being in the eyes of the beholder, there are still cases where beauty cannot be seen, no matter how hard you look, and how permissive and easygoing the beholder may be. There are people who are simply not beautiful, not by any classical or modern standards.

Of course, the question may arise what exactly is beauty, and we might get into a discussion of geometrical proportions, including symmetry, shapes and sizes. And many may cry out how beauty is relative and subjective, and I fully agree with you, but notwithstanding all that, we do, more often than not, agree on what is deemed beautiful and by exclusion what is not.

So what if you happen to score low on the beauty level? So what if you are not certified to be among the sexiest men and women alive? Exactly, don't despair. You still have a go at beauty because there is still the matter of personality.

Personality is another shady area though. The main problem of personality is that it is often not immediately visible. It is not apparent to the eye, but rather revealed over time. This fact puts personality at a serious disadvantage. Beauty is in your face, but personality involves some digging. You can see beauty as a mask while personality is what looms underneath.

So what does it mean when we say that someone has a good personality? It may be tied to ethical principles, somebody who is honest and upright; it could also be judged on affective grounds, such as caring and loving predispositions, or even other characteristics, such as being responsible, intelligent, easygoing, fun and creative. The absence of (a good) personality would be shallowness, vanity, excessive pride and so on. 

In other words, having a companion who scores high on the looks department but is bankrupt on personality by having shallow convictions and beliefs and by offering merely empty platitudes will not constitute the best “catch,” however much at first glance or on a superficial level this may seem a fact.

Hence personality can rescue beauty or make up for a lack of it. In fact, I must confess that I have had crushes in the past (I stress the word past because I am currently happily married) where the person in mind would have generally failed beauty contests. Yet in such cases, what amazes me about these women is their confidence.

These people are aware that they are not exactly good-looking but they manage to shine with confidence which immerses them with a light that somehow transcends beauty itself. In fact, even an average-looking person with confidence on her side can wipe out the competition of pretty much anyone. 
Strangely enough, for beautiful people confidence actually detracts instead of adding to their looks. If you are blessed with looks what would add to your beauty is a moderately timid stance. This is because everyone already knows you are beautiful and if you exude confidence on that respect you will end up appearing cocky. It's when people say that she is beautiful and she knows it!

Let me explain this point by giving examples of movie stardom. Recently, Jennifer Aniston has been named the sexiest woman alive beating out Madonna and arch-rival Angelina. We would think that Angelina may be more interesting or exotic in her looks, but Jennifer comes off as a little shy in comparison, which adds to her overall appeal. I am not claiming that Angelina is shallow or anything like that, but that the confidence that she exudes may eventually work against her. Another ideal would be Nicole Kidman who manages to balance her beauty with her personality. Again I have never had the fortune to have met any of these ladies so I can only speak about appearances, of how they appear to me.

Let us look at an example where looks were replaced by confidence. I must say that I do not find Zooey Deschanel attractive by any classical standards. Yet she has managed to win over people's heart through her personality, at least judging by her movies. She seems to be witty, exuberant, yet at the same time both complex and confident. My knowledge of her is based mainly on (or rather limited to) the movie 500 days of Summer. There were moments where I did not really see why the male protagonist was so infatuated and captivated by someone who was not that beautiful after all, but again she, to put it in an overused expression, made up for it in the personality department.

So there you have it. An analysis of beauty, personality with the variable of confidence thrown in for good measure. Feel free to completely agree or disagree with me. Yet one thing that strikes me often is that yes, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but this also means that it is hard for us to gauge our own looks because we are willy-nilly biased and also caught up in a world of appearances and media frenzying.

Beauty can be at the same time defined as cultural or dependent on society and media. What constitutes beauty, more so for women, has changed over the years. While plump women used to be considered the ideal body image in the past, we are nowadays often bombarded with images of super-skinny, borderline anorexic women. Despite these fluctuations of taste and fashion, I believe that there is a core tacit agreement on the notion of beauty, even though it cannot be set in stone nor clearly defined or outlined.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Zat you, Santa Claus? Letter and Questions for the Ho-Ho-Ho Man

Santa Clause sled flying through the sky with raindeers from Stanley Park Bright Lights

Dear Santa,
I am writing to you despite the fact that I do not officially believe in you. In fact, I believe that it is more likely that there are aliens out there than the possibility of your existence. Despite all that, you do exist; you exist in the hearts and minds of many children, and I will gladly foster this same belief in my own child.

You see, when my son saw one of your incarnations at your self-named parade, his face glowed with joy. He clasps his hands in awe whenever he sees you on TV, and he is following my own childhood tradition of counting down to Christmas with a chocolate-filled calendar.

I want to say thanks. The innocent bubbles of childhood will burst sooner or later, a victim of temporal circumstance, and we will get more cynical, but, at least, there used to be magical moments once upon a time. We can tap into it every now and then and hopefully at least once a year for memory's or nostalgia's sake.

Actually, dear Santa, I never had the privilege of believing in you. I grew up in an environment that stressed the religious over its more secular and jocular aspects, and yes, you may think you are special but you cannot ever reach the status and respect of the Son of Man who was (supposedly but not really) born around the time you come around from your far-away home in the Cold North.

Ironic, no? You come from the coldest part of the planet to bring us a little warmth. Yes, Humbug aside, Christmas can be special for adults alike. They say it is a time for family, but it is mainly a time of coming to terms and setting priorities. It is the last step before the new year, that point in time of reckoning and resolutions.

I reckon you bring justice in your own way. You punish the naughty with the absence of toys and joys. But what about adults? Can they escape retribution simply because they have stopped believing in magic and supernatural beings? Are they exempt then? Or do you agree that those people are all naughty and no nice children trapped in adult forms?

Again, Santa, thank you for being so jolly and so round. And I hope to be in your good books this year, presents or not. Either way, I will leave you a glass of milk and cookies on the window sill, just in case you come around.

P.S. Here are some questions for you. Answer them at your leisure because I know you are a busy fellow during the Christmas season.

  1. What is your nationality?

You come from the North Pole, so it means that you have no nationality, right? But then how can you travel to and through places like the United States, which is so stringent with passport requirements and border security issues?

  1. What were you like in your younger years?

There is practically no biographical information about you. Who are your parents? What did you think of high school? What is your level of education? Are you romantically linked to anyone?

  1. How do you keep yourself happy?

How do you manage to keep good cheer all the time? Do you listen to Christmas carols nonstop? Do you shun the news?

  1. What do you do the rest of the year?

What do you do when you are not in demand? Do you dedicate yourself to other activities like martial arts or monopoly? Do you watch movies? Who do you hang out with, reindeers excepted?

  1. Do you know what the word “ho” means and that your first name comes dangerously close to a dangerous evil entity?

Purpose or just a crazy coincidence?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Keeping it Real and Being against the Art of Flattery

Polish court jester Stańczyk sitting sad and dejected
Stańczyk by Jan Matejko
They say that if you want a job nowadays, it is all about the contacts you have. Although education is important (and beneficial) and although your resume may be bolstered by hands-on experience, it will be much more difficult for you to land the job unless you do a little bit of networking on the side. Or as they also say, it is not what you know but who you know.

Despite my belief that merits should speak for themselves, I can see how personal characteristics can be vital in the job market. The employer who either directly or from hearsay can vouch for the job-seeker's personality will choose you because personality goes a long way. Sure, the employer can always check and verify your references, but it would save them a lot of time and hassle if you are at least somewhat familiar to them.

I do not doubt that personality should be a major factor in hiring decision. Someone who has education and experience but has a lousy temper or lacks professionalism in their demeanor or actions may not be as qualified as others who make up in the personality department by being cheerful, responsible, independent and a team-player at the same time.

All this preamble will (eventually) lead us to the main topic at hand here: flattery. Networking may get you the job but in order to keep it or to advance in it, many people use flattery to their advantage.

Flattery is as old as Swiss cheese. It was used freely and extensively among the aristocrats, for example. When you are facing a despot king who may lack rhyme and reason but who still had power and authority, in particular, power over your life and fate, then you would be wise to flatter him to be and remain in his good books. I believe one of the best examples to be the fairy tale “The Emperor's New Clothes” where everyone agreed to flatter the king on his super-lightweight, non-existent clothes. To state the truth in such a situation means risking imprisonment or even death.

It has been a similar case with the royal advisers of old. Afraid of giving “bad” news, they would flatter the king, conveniently gloss over his errors, diminish and conceal the reasons for defeat, especially if the king's decisions had a hand in it. The only person at court who would give real advice would be the court jester or clown. Being considered a fool anyway, he had nothing to lose and in Shakespearean manner he could criticize and expose the king's flaws, although Shakespeare may have romanticized that notion to a certain degree.

Yet the point here is that flattery has not gone extinct and is still at full force even within modern democratic systems. For instance, it is alive and kicking in the modern job market.

Professional flatterers exclaim that it is a jungle out there, a world of dog-eat-dog so they are merely trying to survive. By making the boss feel good about herself, their chances of survival would increase, according to their logic. Face it, next time there is a higher position at stake, it is not usually timid hardworking Joe who gets promoted but charming verbal master Steve.

To shed some more light on this situation, let us define flattery here. Flattery is information that regardless of its validity is meant to please the recipient. There are other derogatory terms used for such behavior, “boot-licker” and “ass-kisser,” for instance, but I am not here to insult anyone, so we shall play it fair and clean.

As can be seen, the motive is to make the boss feel good about himself, and it is purely for selfish reasons because the flatterer is driven by ambition and wants to succeed. Flattery is hence not only an art form but can be used as a weapon. It is a form of art because there are certain skills involved, and the professional flatterer knows them by heart and has them imprinted on his sleeve.

A little bit of flattery here and there may be all right although I am instinctively opposed to it as a rule. Honesty and integrity are often not so compatible with the flatterer. And they can be scrupulous. In order to reach their goal, these ambitious people may even use gossip, flattery's dark sister, to get to their position.

After winning the trust of the boss through affected kind words and a show of steadfastness, the flatterer has worked his way up to the boss's confidence. Then comes the cruel blow, a piercing comment about a co-worker which, true or not, may be the end of that person. And the flatterer is deep inside quite insecure and envious, and she would not want the co-workers to “steal” from her what she “rightfully” sees as her own, job security or the desired upcoming promotion.

Unfortunately, in the real world, these flatterers do get what they want regardless of whether they are truly qualified or not. They charm their way through but deep inside they resemble snakes that can bite and poison you with words and deeds at any given moment. So whether you are a co-worker or a boss, please heed this advice: Beware of the hidden fangs of the flatterer!