Vocation: Sham and Sincerity

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 18, 2010 · 11 comments

in Blog

Editor’s note: In conjunction with the series we’re currently doing on vocation and calling, we will be publishing excerpts from Self-Culture Through the Vocation by Edward Howard Griggs (1914).

Sham and Sincerity

If mechanical work has the limitations cited, it is what we call the higher vocations that involve just the gravest dangers, for in these we are subject to all sorts of pressures and bonds from social forces, and immediate worldly success often results from pretense and deceit. Thoreau understood that. He found he could not preach, in a conventional pulpit, and be honest, because he would have to say what would please his congregation. He could not teach school, because his behavior and teaching would have to fit the views of his patrons:

“I have thoroughly tried school-keeping, and found that my expenses were in proportion, or rather out of proportion, to my income, for I was obliged to dress and train, not to say think and believe, accordingly, and I lost my time into the bargain. As I did not teach for the good of my fellow-men, but simply for a livelihood, this was a failure.”- Thoreau, Walden

So he earned his living by a simple form of mechanical labor, lived on a few cents a day, and taught what he believed, without payment. That is one solution, but not attractive to many.

“The public is the greatest of sophists,” said Plato; and for a time the premium does seem to be placed on appearance rather than reality. Take so high a calling as that of a minister, the physician of the spirit: expected to be a moral model in the community (which none of us is worthy to be), preaching largely to women, with little opportunity for frank comradeship with the men of his congregation, pushed by the world’s demand on to a pedestal apart — the danger is that he will come to dwell on how he appears rather than what he is, which is the high road to hypocrisy. Thus the minister who remains entirely sincere, with no touch of pretense or affectation, is a saint of the spirit and should be honored as such.

For a time it aids the physician to assume an air of mysterious omniscience, whimsically illustrated in Latin prescriptions. It is further to his advantage that many persons should be ill, as long a time as possible. You see the temptation. The Chinese, with their usual contradiction of Western civilization, seem alone to have solved the problem. With them, we are told, the physician receives a salary while every member of the family is entirely well. One case of illness stops the pay till the patient is cured. That is one way!

It is to the lawyer’s interest that persons should quarrel, and that reconciliation should be long and difficult. The more the law is filled with intricate complexities and absurd technicalities, the greater is the need for the professional lawyer and the larger his fees. Further, the system that pays him to give his mind to the task of making seem true, what often he does not believe true, involves grave strain on his own mental integrity. There are examples where great lawyers have refused to undertake the defense of any accused person in whose innocence they did not sincerely believe, but the young practitioner in criminal law will tell you it is quite impossible to follow that rule and win a career.

What vocation is higher than that of the teacher, concerned with building the human spirit in children and young people? How often, with all the high opportunities of the calling, one finds the teacher acquiring all the unfortunate “ear-marks ” of the vocation — the assertive manner, high-pitched voice, didactic assurance in expressing narrow opinions — characteristics springing from dealing habitually with immature minds and exercising authority over them.

James Mill pointed out that magazine literature must succeed in the week or month in which it is published, and therefore the easiest way to success is to catch and express just the whim on the surface of public opinion. The temptation so to cater is strong on writer, editor and publisher alike. Further, responding to some vulgar interest of the moment assures commercial success to drama, novel or article. In consequence we have the current mass of prurient stuff exploiting the sex instinct in unworthy fashion.

So, in all fields, the world bribes its leaders to be their worst selves. I know public teachers and ministers who admit frankly that they overstate, holding that it is the only way to make ideas prevail. The temptation to this vice is strong upon every leader, but what is its result? At the moment, the audience responds with applause, but at home, afterwards, those who think are apt to say, “Why, that is not true.” Thus the transient effect is obtained at the expense of alienating the very persons who should be won to the cause, while the speaker’s own mind is vitiated…

I recall a modern educator (James L. Hughes) remarking that he had never heard an audience applaud a greatly original thought. The statement is perhaps extreme; but when you hear such a thought expressed, your inclination is not to make a noise; rather it is to ask, “Is that true?” meeting the challenge of the original thought with your own active mind. On the other hand, there is a trick of making almost any audience applaud. The speaker does not need to think at all, for thinking is hard work, and every audience is glad to be relieved of it. No, it is necessary only to use frequently, in an unctuous voice, those catch-words of conventional morality — home, country and mother — and almost any audience will applaud. Those who have not been thinking, suddenly hear these phrases, and know that it is time to applaud. All those who have been living evil lives make the most noise, because they want to cover their trail by getting into the front rank of those applauding conventional morality. The few who are really thinking may sit silently disgusted, but they do not come next time, so then the whole audience applauds.

This goes on for a considerable time, and then people awaken. “Why,” they say, ” this is clap-trap and sham; kick the charlatan out!” Now it is right that the charlatan should be so punished, but the world that has bribed him to be his worst self has not earned the right to administer the kick.

There is, of course, another side to all this. If humanity is ever ready to respond to clap-trap and sham, to pretense and the sensational appeal, so it is always ready to respond to the most high, to the noblest truth voiced in the simplest form. The highest appeals to the lowest: were this not true, there would be no hope for democracy. It takes genius, however, to grasp and express quite simply the heart of humanity; and genius is rare.

Thus every vocation has its own dangers, and these are great just in proportion to the opportunity for culture and service. The larger the opportunity, the easier the fall. The only safeguard is everlasting effort and utter sincerity. One must keep constantly before one that the way of appearances is the way of death, the way of reality is the way of life. One must cling to this unfailingly as the basic principle of all action, even when the faith is blind and the material rewards seem to be given to pretense and sham. Indeed, the fundamental attitude of the doer always determines the value of the thing done. The work is worth just the measure of manhood expressed in it — never more, and, we may be thankful, never less.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Robert Burd June 19, 2010 at 7:32 am

No truer words have been said.

2 walter daniels June 19, 2010 at 12:33 pm

The author glorifies Thoreau, but neglects he lived on the generosity of his friends. So, he was, of course, careful not to offend them too greatly. His whole theory is that man is evil, and only by being supported by others can one achieve greatness.
There is not one consistent, logical argument in the whole treatise. There is much truth in the idea that the crowd wants appeasement, but he does just that. At the time of writing, mankind behaved badly. The rise of goodness that had begun to shine post Civil War, was being reversed Those who believed that the masses were dumb sheep, were beginning to rise. Anyone not of the upper class was despised, and considered as expendable. Woodrow Wilson would institute segregation in the Armed Forces, and Jim Crow laws in Civil Society. The country would be manipulated, “for their own good.” Setting a pattern that continues today.
The President takes over 1/6 of the economy, with a lie. Adding only 5 million (not the 32 claimed), with an enormous tax cost. Defies centuries of legal precedent, to give unions a greater stake than those who held GM and Chrysler bonds. Now, in the name of the Environment, he wants even greater power over us, Demanding that Congress do what he wants, rather than listen to voters.

3 Keith VanDyke June 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Having been a tradesman for a majority of my life I agree in my “jaded, hard assed, blue collar” way.When I worked as a line mechanic I wouldn’t make as much as I would when I did Iron Work. That was a no brainer, the more danger the better the pay! Half of my working life was spent working with the Unions, which I firmly believe in. So let me get to my point, if your young get a trade and make a honest buck! Don’t sit on your ass playing Video Games wondering why you cant make 50-60 K a year siting in the A.C.!
P.S. Trades Men are retiring faster than Apprentice’s are replacing them, so guess who will get the contracts and supply sub-par labor? It’s happening here in South Fla. as in other areas!

4 Bruce June 19, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I swear, every time I see a post for the Vocation series, I think it reads ‘vacation’. haha

5 Sujay Datta June 20, 2010 at 6:29 am

I agree one hundred per cent with this article. It is almost ridiculous to notice how much people follow any thing that “appeals” to them without actually thinking things through.

My reasoning is that it is too much effort for a majority to spend time thinking with no tangible return in sight, especially if their lives don’t depend on it. In some cases, I’d venture that their heads probably hurt from the exercise! So, it is easier to stick to the basics, the rhetoric as a consumer.

It is safe to say that a thinking person can actually take advantage of this fact and stick to the principles that sales is founded on: tell them what they want to hear, and you’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hand.

My theory is that if you have the ability, reserve the thinking for your personal time and in your vocation. When dealing with people, however, it is best to “appease” them. Life is so much better (even for the thinker) then.

I’d love to hear your comments.

P.S.: Excellent article. As authors, you two of you are clearly thinkers! This is the FIRST time in my life that any writing has prompted me to comment on it. Hmmm, perhaps you gave me exactly what I wanted to hear! I rest my case.

6 Sujay Datta June 20, 2010 at 6:35 am

I just noticed that this may not be an article by Brett & Kate McKay, but actually an entire excerpt from Self-Culture Through the Vocation by Edward Howard Griggs as mentioned right at the beginning.

Please correct me if I am wrong. Thanks folks!

7 Larry June 20, 2010 at 11:21 am

This is a brillant article that has a depth that I was not aware of. I will have to read this a few times to get the entire benefit of what was written. I agree most whole heartly in the area of religion. Most keep us under the law and not under the freedom of Christ. A lot of them become “Professional Beggars”. Our’s makes about 100 K (with benefits) when the rest of the people are bearly making 40K. He will make calls when he is sick and say things like “I am very sick and I cannot afford the medicine to get better.” HINT HINT “Give me some money”.

I am sure that they are not all that way, sometimes it just seems so.

8 Core June 20, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I purchased this book off amazon, last time it was mentioned. Worth it.

9 Jay June 21, 2010 at 5:46 am

I have been following this topic with some interest since the first post. I am in a job I don’t particularly care for after 25 years in the profession; not that I don’t believe in or enjoy what I do. I realize that on the surface that may seem contradictory, but while I enjoy what I do, I do not care for what the “job” has become. I work in healthcare, and it is not the physician mentioned in the article we should be wary of, rather it is the hospital administration that merits our scrutiny. It is in their best interests to keep the patients “sick” for as long as possible, then push them out the door when the insurance runs out, or the cap for that diagnosis has been met.
It bothers me that some of the focus of these articles has fixated on, to borrow the phrase, “do what you love, and the money will follow”. The implication being that if we somehow don’t “love” what we’re doing, we should go do something else. The lone exception to this was the piece on Dead Work; and it was rather dreary at best. The piece that quoted heavily from Maslov bordered on irresponsible. Of course a child eats when it wants, sleeps when it wants, and poops it’s pants to boot! To imply, as I believe that particular piece did, that there is something inheritantly wrong with doing what you have to do, whether you want to do it or not, is not the proper message. The truth is that our “calling”, our “vocation” may have little to do with what we draw a salary from.
The vocation is that particular which sets us apart from others. It matters not so much what occupation we pursue, but rather what we bring to that occupation. Just as in the illustration of the brick layers, our ernest desire should be to have the attitude of the bricklayer who responded that he was building a cathederal, rather than the fellow who only saw his job as a way to a few bucks.
Naturally it stands to reason that we should pursue that occupation that engages the most of what is the best and brightest in us; and I believe that is what Brett has tried to get across with these articles. It just some of the choices in subject matter have not, in my opinion, always worked to best advantage. If we are engaged in in an occupation that makes the best use of what we bring to it, our talents, our abilities, our commitment; then we can become a success no matter where we end up on the pay scale.
Passion is fleeting, and its pursuit ruinous. We have all heard of or know someone who, claiming he no longer “loves” his wife, has ditched his family for another. He “lost” his passion for his wife. I know of one poor fellow who has, in his pursuit of “passion”, become a serial monogamist. Going from one realtionship to another, staying until he no longer “feels” in love; then moving on to the next. He’s a sorry character, and a man most miserable. The correllary? Passion is fickle and all to often fleeting, whether it is in romance or in ones vocation. Committment is what makes a marriage stick, and so it is with a vocation. Typical of this modern generation, we seek to abandon that which is no longer “fun” in the pursuit of our personal fulfillment.
If you want to do some soul searching, then take the time to determine your core values. What do you truly believe in? Not what you’ve been told to believe in. Not what your parents, your spouse, or your boss expect you to believe in; but the stuff you believe in when no one is watching. Determine how those beliefs mesh with the larger world around you. Find the need. Then take an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Love to sing, but can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Then don’t expect to contribute much to the world by singing for your supper. Find that which you are best at.Then find an occupation that allows you to do that which most closely aligns itself with your core beliefs, that also makes full use of that which you are best at. Seek to fill that need identified earlier in the best way you can. Be sure, as one previous poster cautioned, to examine the road carefully to see if you will like the person you will have to become in order to pursue that occupation, for every profession changes those who pursue it. Once in it, give yourself fully to it. Seek to give your best to it each and every day. People change, companies change; for better and for worse. It is likely that at some point, perhaps many points, you will have to change occupations. The sign to you will be when the company no longer aligns itself with your core values. That wil be a no brainer provided you have established, and planted frimly in your mind, the core values mentioned earlier. Keep those and no amount of money or fleeting “passion” will sway you down a wrong path.

10 Charles June 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

More socialist propaganda I didn’t expect to see on AoM. As a Protestant Christian,
I’ve never expected my minister “to be a moral model in the community”. He is there to help guide us through our own scriptural education and spiritual journey to be closer to God, not be a sole means of salvation or some kind of golden calf to worship. We leave the idol worshipping, and post-modernism to the secular crowd. There was only 1 saint, and that was Jesus Christ himself. He is and was the only moral model of the community.

As far as preaching to women, this is largely irrelevant, and yet another over-generalized socialist opinion. It’s the responsibility of the follower to make sure the content provided by the minister doesn’t deviate from scripture. Who the preaching is meant for is irrelevant, what is being preached is.

“frank comradeship with the men of his congregation” is not the minister’s responsibility. The Church’s purpose is not to please man, it is to please the Lord.

11 Jonny June 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I say bring-on the socialist propaganda. I’d like to see the arts and scientific research have a higher priority than a self-contradicting obsession with self-preservation.

I also think the comment about church preaching largely to women is relevant. I have no time for indoctrinating philosophical confusion from a book that introduces itself by implying the Earth is the center of the universe and claims the stars were created after the Earth was. But most importantly, true morality is forged in the heat of adversity and tribulation, not in the heady comfort of a padded pew.

I devote a maximum one hour per week of focused bible study with a cell-group with the goal of understanding the bible better. That is all I care to invest in religion. I’ve donated thousands out of my own pocket to missionaries fighting Islamic censorship, which I actually consider a peaceful investment against religious coercion. The rest of my time I’d much rather spend crawling in lava tubes and picking at funny-looking rocks.

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