Talent for talent’s sake is a bauble and a show. Talent working with joy in the cause of universal truth lifts the possessor to new power as a benefactor. -EMERSON
Wrote Baltasar Gracian, the Spanish philosopher and satirist two centuries before Emerson:
The larger the number of gifts [talents] the less the need to affect any, for such would be vulgar insult to all of them.
What follows is an attempt to analyze Emerson’s and Grachin’s thoughts by seeking answers to these questions:
1. Why is the seeking of talent for talent’s sake a bauble- “showy but worthless thing”-or, as Gracian phrased it, “vulgar”?
2. Why does talent working with joy in the cause of universal truth make the practitioner thereof a benefactor?
3. And another point by Gracian: “. . . the man of discrimination will never exhibit his virtues, for it is through their very concealment that they awaken the interest of others.” Is it valid?
Talent for talent’s sake is no more than a showy and wordy thing; gross if the purpose be vulgar; evil if it be not high. To get away with piracy, thievery, hijacking, embezzlement and the like takes talent of sorts.
The same can be said about talents aimed at fame, notoriety, or fortune for fortune’s sake. And observe the kind of talent so prevalent in the news media-emphasizing the bad to the neglect of the good. Showy stuff!
And above all, note the political talent of getting votes: Say anything to gain or hold office and wield power over the citizenry.
On the other hand is the talent of working with joy in the cause of universal truth-Creation. Those who lead in acquiring and practicing this rare talent are, unquestionably, the highest-ranking benefactors of mankind. These few are capable, to some extent, of intercepting the Divine Intelligence and leading the rest of us in Creation’s evolutionary direction. In the absence of such benefactors, mankind would still be at the level of the cave dwellers.
Universal truth, of course, is omnipresent. What unique talent is it that graces our benefactors, enabling them to intercept Truth? It is their preparation, their seeking, their desire to tune in and receive a bit of the Divine Intelligence. This is what lifts a talented one to the new power of a benefactor. Thus graced, each benefactor serves as a go between,or as Socrates labeled this talent, .. a philosophical midwife.” They receive from Heavenly sources and share with the few who can tune in and receive their enlightenments.
Emerson speaks of working with joy in the cause of universal truth. This spiritual man, certainly among our benefactors, goes on to explain:
We lie in the lap of immense intelligence which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage of its beams.
This we should try to grasp: to allow a passage of its beams-to intercept the “immense intelligence”-is a skill that manifests itself only if the pursuit of universal truth be joyful. One cannot imagine a complacent or angry person rising to these intellectual, moral and spiritual heights. As was wisely observed long ago: “Everything that is leavened rises, and joy is the rational elevation or rising of the soul.”
The bakers of bread know about leavening. But only now and then do we come upon an individual-past or present-who realizes that the joyous seeking of universal truth is the yeast that determines how much bread-goods and services-shall grace mankind.
Bear in mind that there are two kinds of power-coercive and creative. The practitioners of coercive power are corrupted and degraded. But “talent working with joy in the cause of universal truth lifts the possessor to new power as a benefactor.” More power to our benefactors!
Finally, to Gracian’s point that the man of discrimination will never exhibit his virtues, for it is through their very concealment that they awaken the interest of others. Is it valid? If it is, then most of us devoted to the freedom way of life have a lot of homework to do.
What a show-off I have been in several fields, a virtual exhibitionist! There is an egotistical drive here: flaunting my five holes-in-one, displaying a book and numerous articles by experts proclaiming me a culinary artist, showing off LER’s Journal, emphasizing not a missed day in over 26 years, and so on. All of this is, as Emerson asserted, “a bauble and a show.” George Elder wrote, “When one talks incessantly about things accomplished, little time is left to do anything.”
Suppose I were really a man of discrimination in these areas. What would my method be? Concealment! Shut up! Those who care will awaken and find out anything worth having.
Let a person be a superb golfer. He need not then be a braggart. Everyone interested in that sport will awaken to his skills and his record, holes-in-one or whatever. Further, countless thousands will seek his tutorship.
The same is true in the culinary field. Cook a better meal than others have experienced and they’ll ask for your recipes. Concentrate on your cooking, however high your self-esteem. Being a show-off will give your guests a headache, if not a stomach-ache!
Golf, cooking and numerous other hobbies of my earlier years have been relegated to second place. Further, because of Gracian’ s counsel, they’II arouse no more exhibitionism-never again!
What, now, comes first with me? Trying better to understand and explain the freedom philosophy. In this exalted ambition, I am not a show-off. I know next to nothing about it-and know it! And if that be talent, it is well concealed. Yet, as I joyously labor in this vineyard, receiving a thought now and then, improving a word or phrase, drawing on benefactors past and present, thinking of myself as a midwife-not as source-numerous other individuals are awakened and take off on their own.
Gracian’s point is, indeed, valid! For evidence, observe so many of the individuals from several walks of life whose avowed aim is to “save free enterprise,” and note how they assess themselves: theirs is the last word; they have all the answers-they think! Not the slightest humility or concealment-the omnipotent I! Show-offs and way off!
The main point of this thesis was pronounced 25 centuries ago in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The late Albert Jay Nock wrote a brilliant paraphrase of this wisdom 1 Those few who really count are unknown-The Remnant. They will have nothing to do with anyone bent on reforming others. Instead, they are awakened and attracted only to those who are seeking light, that is, devoted to their own enlightenment.
Let us then work with joy in the cause of universal truth and acquire that new power which makes us benefactors. By so doing, we will serve Creation at the Heavenly and earthly levels. And that’s as high as man can go!
1 See Notes from FEE, July 1962 entitled “Isaiah’s Job.”