This series of posts is based on a list of initiatory Vices and Virtues of the Left Hand Path found in Uncle Setnakt’s Essential Guide to the Left Hand Path by Don Webb. It is done with the permission of the publisher, Lodestar. If these posts pique your interest in the Left Hand Path, please look for the book at Lodestar’s site, http://www.seekthemystery.com , or at Amazon. I highly recommend it, along with many others.
Virtue #2: Quantifiable Pride
With 7 Vices and 7 Virtues to be mindful of on the Left Hand Path, it is inevitable that we will face certain balancing acts as we endeavor to further align our inner and outer lives toward/against them. The 2nd Virtue, Quantifiable Pride, seeks to provide the LHP initiate with a sorely-needed outlet for pride, which is a healthy thing in its proper proportions. As we look upon pride as a quality to be cultivated (carefully) rather than mown down, we will likely flirt with the Vices of Narcissism and Hubris. Quantifiable Pride is the “sweet spot” to aim for between self-abnegation and megalomania.
As Don Webb explains of this virtue, recognition is something that we need as human beings, social creatures that we are. On the Right Hand Path, I have often seen recognition actively shunned. It’s one thing to steel oneself against seeking recognition for its own sake, but I have watched people actively renounce their own achievements as either unreal or unworthy of mention, all as part of their practice aimed at keeping the ego in check. Such an approach makes a little bit of sense on the surface, but a well-chose metaphor will smash the foundations upon which it rests. Keeping the ego in check, to be sure, is a desirable and worthy goal for walkers of the RHP and LHP alike; when it gets too big, it causes a lot of problems. It becomes a tumor on the psyche, voraciously consuming resources that could be better applied elsewhere for the sake of growing way too large for anybody’s own good.
How do we deal with this same issue where food and one’s physical size are concerned?
If you think your weight is running away with you, how do you respond?
Some think the solution is to swing in the opposite direction, starving themselves in order to shed the weight. There are two flaws in this line of thinking:
- You do need to eat to live. Starving yourself will do harm to your body, which can be permanent in severe cases.
- Starving yourself is how you wind up gorging yourself again, leading to more starvation, leading to still more gluttony, and so on.
A huge turning point for me from the Right Hand Path to the Left Hand Path was when I realized that the desire for recognition is not a selfish, shallow or desperate thing. It’s practically built into us. When you feel such desire, it does not necessarily signal that you’re on your way to narcissism. Recognition is important—it is why humanity has devised so many different ways over the millenia to honor different people for different achievements. It’s why we have a Nobel Prize, and you’d be really hard-pressed to convince anyone that all of this is just a bunch of ego games that we need to outgrow.
Recognition is a wholly valid motivator, though results tend to be shoddy when it is the sole motivator. If nobody were ever recognized for anything, there is a lot that would never get done. We can be idealistic and imagine humanity evolving to a point where that no longer holds true for us, but we can also be realistic and acknowledge that as things currently stand, recognition is an important part of our lives and the work we do while living them.
On the Left Hand Path, it is totally okay to toot your own horn—provided you have a nice horn to toot (that didn’t mean what it sounded like it meant). I own a snazzy hat or two, and I’ll be damned if I leave them sitting in my closet so my ego doesn’t get big. I’m gonna wear those bad boys and enjoy the compliments. I’m also gonna compliment yours if you’ve got one, because recognizing your accomplishments does nothing to detract from my own. Those who believe so probably do need to work on their egos a bit.
In order to work against stagnation and the hindrances of narcissism and hubris, Don Webb suggests a formula for voicing one’s accomplishments: Go ahead and celebrate what you’ve done, but follow your anecdote up with a statement of your next goal. You do have one, right?
See, the value in recognition is not merely in the bestowing; if recognition comes your way and fails to encourage bigger and better things, it hasn’t done its job and you’ve probably been approaching it in ways that led to that. Recognition is not a goal in and of itself, but is a very telling marker along the way to your goals. It should refuel you, galvanize you to keep pressing on. Recognition tells you, “I see what you are capable of and am confident you are capable of even more.” It is a spur to growth. It’s rewarding and it feels good, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s supposed to.
Webb gives the example: “Last semester I made the Dean’s list; next semester I will get into the doctoral program,” citing four effects:
- It lets people know that you are a force in the world, and they will treat you accordingly.
- It will plant an image in their minds of your success, so that they will be unconsciously working magic for you to succeed.
- It lets you know that you a person of real worth, and
- It reminds you of how far you need to go in order to achieve your long-range goals.
It’s more important than you might think to be perceived as a force in the world. Think of the alternative: Being perceived as impotent. If you act like your acccomplishments mean nothing, others will do the same, which will hinder you, which is just not necessary or helpful. Even if you care nothing for recognition, it will help you get where you’re trying to go. Embrace it.
Number 4 above is the most important: It is essential to always have new goals to replace the ones most immediately up for realization. It is all too easy, upon being presented with laurels, to rest on them and never get up. If anything, this is the real danger in reveling in recognition as far as the LHP is concerned. You don’t want to get stuck, you want to grow ever stronger and that means working ever harder to achieve ever greater things.
I’ve focused a lot on the dangers of overdoing it in the recognition-seeking department, but under-doing it is also a danger. Another important part of putting this Virtue into practice is in taking the time to recognize your own achievements for what they really are. While some people may become too attached to recognition or seek it for the wrong reasons, others need to continually remind themselves of what they have achieved because the goals they’ve reached pale in comparison to the ones they hold in their hearts.
Funnily enough, a perfect example of this for me is my recent receipt of a letter notifying me that I myself had made the Dean’s list last semester. I wasn’t as proud of this as I should have been, considering I am a high school dropout who flunked his first few semesters in college. I went back, re-took all of those courses, replaced the Fs with As, and that’s why I’m on the Dean’s list now.
I could focus on the quality of my schoolwork and how easily it comes to me (when I do it), and suck all the pomp and circumstance out of the recognition I received, or I could remind myself that aside from the schoolwork, I did a lot of hard, personal work to completely reverse a devastating downward trajectory in my life. I completely turned things around for myself. Therein lies the real achievement.
Where would ignoring that fact get me?
Where would deliberately burying it get me?
LHP or RHP, this behavior gets you nowhere. If you’re not headed anywhere in particular, I guess that’s okay; if, however, you’re going places, you would be well-advised to spend some time recognizing where you’ve been and where you are now relative to that.