This mid-1700s advice is still relevant to you

I read Dane McDonald’s post on What matters most and was even more inspired to write this post on being lovely that’s been bouncing around my drafts folder since reading How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness. The concept that Russ Roberts brings to the forefront about the nuances of the desire to be loved and the desire to be lovely is one that I am seeing touched on over and over again, only it isn’t being said in the cryptic language of Adam Smith.

Smith writes: Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely

Russ Roberts re-writes as: we want not only to be loved, we want to think of ourselves as lovely. Rather than see ourselves as we truly are, we see ourselves as we would like to be. Self-deception can be more comforting than self-knowledge. We like to fool ourselves.

Dane talks about the struggles of running a company and the ease at which one can be “killing it” in one moment and in desperation the next. The nuance here is similar to Adam’s loved and lovely. On one hand there is an outward expression of success, where the judges of your accomplishments are your customers, employees, investors, and so on. On the other hand an internal expression of struggle and desperation. Dane’s suggestion that all founders and entrepreneurs should work a bit on the internal side of things if they want to truly have the outward facing stuff truly matter. This is the same thing that Adam Smith and Russ Roberts are saying, those of us that focus on being lovely people are those that are loved in a meaningful way.

In How to Escape The Age of Mediocrity, Umair Haque talks about how easy it is for us as humans to focus more on being loved than being lovely. Perhaps those with outsized ambitions are fewer but I suspect there is more people with outsized ambitions only they’re affect on the world won’t be known for a generation. In the interim going for broke to buy the latest brands is being chosen more often than going for broke to bring your most unique ideas to the world.

They went to the moon. We’re melting down the planet.

Instead of being loved or being lovely, we live in mediocrity

Smith writes: How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number.

There is a lot of evidence that we’re focusing on being lovely though. Brian Chesky doesn’t say the words specifically, but the sharing economy is about the middle class being loved and lovely at the same time. In lecture 10 or YCombinator’s “How to start a startup” class, Brian Chesky of AirBNB tells this story about an AirBNB host.

In 2012, I met a host named Sebastian, we do these new jobs around the world where we do meet ups. Sebastian is probably late fifties in north London. Sebastian looks at me and says, “Brian there is this word you never use on your website.” And I say, “What’s that word?” And he says, “That word is friendship. I would love to read a story about friendship.” I said, “Okay read me a story about friendship.” He says, “Six months ago the brunt of riots broke out in front of my home and I was very scared. The next day my mom called me to make sure I was ok, I said yeah mom I’m ok. And she goes, what about the house?” He says, “The house is OK as well.” He said, “Here’s the interesting thing, from the time the riots broke out to the time my mom called me was a twenty four hour window of time. In the periods between that time, seven of my previous Airbnb guests called me just to make sure I was okay.” He said, “Think about that, seven of my own guests called me before my own mother did.”

AirBNB isn’t the only expression of connecting with people and being good to people. The underlying desire of many other sharing economy participants is similar. They want to help others because that’s a good thing and they want to get paid because that’s the way a society of our size has to deal with generosity at this level.

So what does Russ bring to the forefront from one of the most influential thinkers on society and human behavior in his book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life? You’ll want to read the whole book, but here are a few things to think about the nuance of being loved and lovely in today’s society.

  1. Financial Advice – Money is nice, but knowing how to deal with it may be nicer
  2. Career Advice – Advice to job-seekers should: address their employer’s self-love and not just their humanity – to come up with some reason the employer will benefit from hiring them. How would your skills serve the goals of the employer? Do you have any idea what those goals are?
  3. Thoughtfulness Advice – The impartial spectator is the voice inside our head that reminds us that pure self-interest is grotesque and that thinking of others is honorable and noble – the voice that reminds us that if we harm others in order to benefit ourselves, we will be resented, disliked, and unloved by anyone who is looking on impartially. If we are only for ourselves, it’s not a pretty sight.
  4. Some Economics – Smith is saying that modern calculus of economics that looks at material costs and benefits alone is a flawed calculus. It’s perfectly rational to tip in a restaurant that you’ll never visit again, donate anonymously to charity, give blood without expecting to use blood in the future, and even donate a kidney without being paid for it. People who do those things do them gladly.

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  1. Pingback: The most important lesson from the #BRK50 meeting | Josh Maher

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