Updated on 07.15.11

The Ten Evils (Part Five)

Trent Hamm

This was originally one exceptionally long post. I chose to split it into five pieces for readability purposes. I’ll post a segment each day this week.

As mentioned previously, I was recently leafing through a book at the library discussing Japanese martial arts (I believe it was Budo Secrets) when I came upon a sidebar that listed the ten evils that prevent people from improving themselves.

As I read through the list, I couldn’t help but see how each of these evils – or character flaws, as I would perhaps describe them – have held me back in my finances, my career, and my life in different ways.

While thinking about these ten terms, I consulted a dictionary and spent some time reflecting on how each of these has held me back – and can hold you back, too.

(I decided to highlight these evils with some wonderful Creative Commons photographs that illustrate each of these traps.)

Here are the final two evils from that list. You can check out the first pair of evils, the second pair of evils, the third pair of evils, and the fourth pair of evils as well.

Red Light Camera Fine $324: Welcome to the Police State
Red Light Camera Fine $324: Welcome to the Police State, by Alex Proimos

The feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless.

An alarming portion of society today seems to run on a concept of contempt for anything that’s different than themselves. Politics is filled with Republicans full of contempt for Democrats and vice versa. Visit the comment section of any popular site and you see tons of contempt for the writer of the article, the subject at hand, and often other commenters in that particularly useless combination of contempt mixed with anonymity.

Of course, there’s a reason that these cultural elements known so much for their contempt-filled behavior are seen with disdain by so many. Contempt is a deep and negative character flaw that drives people away. It only attracts the small sliver of people who happen to agree with you.

Even worse, contempt tends to drive further contempt. Once you consider it acceptable to view one person or group or item with contempt, it becomes ever easier to view another person or group or item or idea with contempt. And so it continues.

Contempt blinds you to the worth in the people, things, places, and ideas you have contempt for. Nothing is perfect, but if a flaw in one trait brings along contempt for the entire package, then you are only limiting yourself by discarding something (or a set of things) that has great value.

In opposition to contempt is respect. Respect does not mean belief that something is perfect. It merely means that you believe that something has value, flaws and all. Respect means holding back your negativity when it serves no real purpose. Respect means building relationships where both people have value rather than one person having contempt for the other.

You can build a respectful nature by holding back on your negative statements, even when they’re protected by a cloud of anonymity. Every negative statement you make breaks down the wall between the emotions in your head and the words and actions you take in the presence of others, even if anonymous. It fuels further negative emotions and makes it even easier to view others as contemptible and treat them in that fashion.

Instead, look for the positive value in everything you see. Snarkiness has almost no value. Neither does disrespect. They both seek solely to de-value things. Take the opposite approach and look for the value in things. How can this thing make your life better? How can it improve the lives of others that I know – or even others that I don’t know?

Go even further and relate the positive value in the things that you see. When people are talking about something, point out the positives, not the negatives. There are plenty of people out there that relish in the negatives and delight in seeing them. Look at things differently and find value in them.

Someday I'll have a named chair in the Humanities division
Someday I’ll have a named chair in the Humanities division,by Quinn Dombrowski

Overly high self-esteem; vain pride.

Conceited people aren’t enjoyable to be around. Their high opinion of themselves makes it difficult to converse and to interact in any sort of equal way. They wear their achievements as a badge and often stretch those achievements to an incomprehensible level. You know how good they are because they tell you how good they are.

Not only that, conceited folk often have a miscalculated view of their own abilities. They’ll lead people into a situation while being underprepared for it, as their conceit tells them that they’re ready. They’ll turn down genuine offers of help that could put them in a better place because their vain pride makes them turn it away.

Conceit makes people who are without work not go to the food pantry. Conceit makes CEOs make incredibly poor decisions against the advice of the people around them. Conceit makes people in the office believe they can pretty much engage in whatever behavior they so choose.

In each case, conceit eventually makes those you rely on turn against you and can also make your overall life situation far worse. Being proud beyond reason eventually results in a crash – and it’s one that is often painful and difficult to recover from.

The opposite of conceit is humility. Humility means that, regardless of your internal sense of self-worth, you interact with the world with a sense of modesty and respect for the value of others. When others tell you things, you listen to what they say and try to incorporate it into what you know rather than finding ways to blow them off and prove them wrong. When you interact with others, they come first, not you.

Humility can be practiced quite easily. If you achieve something, don’t bring it up to everyone you know. If it’s worthwhile enough, they’ll hear about it from other sources. It’s fine to discuss your achievements if others bring them up, but if they don’t, keep quiet. Eventually, your reputation will precede you, which is far better than your mouth preceding your reputation.

Along those same lines, minimize your achievements when you discuss them. Don’t try to make them seem large. Instead, try to make them seem small with your words. Other people will draw their own conclusions about the merit of your achievements without you having to tell them about it.

Never forget that people are far more impressed by your actions than by your words describing those actions. Speak softly and carry a big stick. Let your actions define who you are, not your re-telling or bragging about those actions.

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  1. Allie says:

    Trent, if this was so important and striking to you, why couldn’t you have gone back to the library to be certain of what book you saw it in, instead of just giving a vague “I believe it was” and possibly being wrong? For a one-shot article, being vague about your source might have been okay, but for a week-long feature – half of your content for an entire week – not being sure of your source/inspiration is pretty inexcuseable.

    More and more lately, stuff like this has been making “contempt for the writer of the article” feel a lot more justifiable.

  2. Steven says:

    What might be seen/interpreted as contempt by some may simply be considered constructive criticism by others. I don’t believe that pointing out the flaws or failings in others necessarily has anything to do with whether or not we respect the person or not. Actually, I’d argue that if we’re taking the time to point these things out, then obviously there’s enough interest in seeing that person/thing/project become better. Someone who felt real contempt towards something wouldn’t care enough to bother pointing out the problems, and would prefer to see whatever it is they hold in contempt fail miserably. Just become someone is pointing out the “negative” doesn’t mean the don’t respect you or what you’re doing.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    Unfortunately, Steven, Trent doesn’t seem to even read, forget heed, any comments posted to his articles. So the constructive part is only to the benefit of his readers who actually DO read the comments. [FYI, I had tried a sample of the Kindle version of the blog, but it doesn’t include the comments or any option to add a comment.]

  4. melissa says:

    Hi Trent,
    I think this is your best post ever. Thank you! I was wondering your opinion on conceit, because all of the advice to be competitive in this economy is to sell yourself and your accomplishments. Also, I am young but have a lot of experience for my age. When people see me, they immediately think I’m an intern or secretary. How do I let them know I know what I’m doing without saying, Hi, my name is Melissa and I graduated from MIT? I’m working on the advice you gave in this article to garner intuitive respect, but alot of times other people are coming from different places.


  5. Vanessa says:

    Humility is no better than conceit when taken to the extreme. If you downplay your accomplishments in front of others often enough, you start to believe it. I was raised to always be humble, never compliment myself, wait for others to speak well of me. Because of that, I struggle with resumes and job interviews because I don’t know how to sell myself, to show my true value to an employer. Not everyone is going to know you by reputation. Sometimes the only thing they have to go on is what you say about yourself. If you don’t have much to say, what kind of conclusion do you expect them to draw? This spills over into my dating life as well, as I’m always downplaying my looks and personality. Why would anyone find that attractive? A healthy dose of conceit would do me–and probably many others– a lot of good.

    You don’t have to brag, but to tell people to make their achievements appear smaller than they are is not only bad advice, it’s lying since it’s not the truth.

  6. Riki says:

    Humility isn’t about selling yourself short. If you don’t take pride in your own accomplishments, nobody will do it for you. Humble people can also be confident and proud of themselves, you know.

    Advice given from an introvert, for sure.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for this, I’ve throughly enjoyed this series of articles. There’s a lot here to think about.

    As to the criticism about a vague source, um… what does that have to do with the content? My understanding was Trent got the *idea* for this series from a book he was browsing. Fine. Which book doesn’t really matter, does it? He could have gotten the idea from something he read in Winnie the Pooh and the content would still be as valid.

    And for what it’s worth, it’s the content of his article that I enjoyed.

    Thanks again Trent.

  8. Nicole says:

    I thought the piece on Contempt was beautifully written and very insightful, Trent. I really appreciate the thought that went into your discussion on developing a respectful nature. A person gets much farther in this world armed with kindness and understanding. I find that when people try to de-value others with their negativity it is really a reflection of their own internal struggle with self esteem. People who genuinely feel good about themselves don’t treat others with contempt, disrespect, or negativity. It just doesn’t happen.

  9. Gretchen says:

    None of these are bad in moderation!

    Of course, most of the “opposites” aren’t what I consider the opposite, as others have pointed out.

  10. Alice says:

    I know the illustrator for that second picture! Neat to see her art.

  11. Katie says:

    Elizabeth, I disagree with that, actually. I think if you’re relying on a specific list of evils generated by another author, that’s using enough of their content that they should get credit for it. If Trent had formulated his own list based on seeing a list of evils somewhere else, that would maybe be general enough not to merit a citation to the original.

  12. Katie says:

    Elizabeth, I disagree with that, actually. I think if you’re relying on a specific list of evils generated by another author, that’s using enough of their content that they should get credit for it. If Trent had formulated his own list based on seeing a list of evils somewhere else, that would maybe be general enough not to merit a citation to the original. As it is, it appears that Trent copied down the list but not where he got it from, which is sloppy.

  13. valleycat1 says:

    #6 – I agree with Katie # #10. If he’s using a specific list (which, by the way, is in the book he links to, along with a bunch of other more positive lists, based on the TOC viewable at Amazon) then he ought to do better than a link to a specific book that may or may not be his actual source. He seems to be spending a lot of hot afternoons at the library, so it shouldn’t have been that big a deal to go back & confirm.

  14. Jackowick says:

    This will be my last comment here for a while I think, because I’m really not liking the tone some of the people are taking, especially the armchair quarterbacking/editorialize on Trent. I’m not putting him on a pedestal, but instead of discussing the concepts, people are sniping and critiqueing and it’s distracting.

    With that said, I think someone made a great point about these being both good and bad depending on the degree of moderation (or lack of). I’ve seen many occassions where “respect” is a way to shield “contempt”, not limited to liking a certain type of person to such a degree that you view non-members are inferior.

    I’m going to give a specific example, this is not a generalization, so calm down:

    I have an Italian friend who says they will only marry an Italian girl because “we’re great cooks”. Okay, there’s respect. Then the bombshell. “Never marry an English or Irish girl because they can’t cook for ****”. I kindly referred them to Nigela Lawson.

    Respect. Contempt.

  15. Lindsay says:

    Jackowick – your comment is so refreshing to me. As someone who is a daily reader of this blog (but certainly not a daily commenter), I am quite over the negative comments on this site related to the writing. Granted, I do agree with folks that it would be nice if Trent responded to the comments, not because I think they are all deserving (and I certainly wouldn’t respond to the editorializing concepts if I were him), but because I think we would feel like, as readers, we are in a bit more of a dialogue with him. I think that’s one of the most valuable components of the blogosphere, and I’ve really enjoyed that on other sites.

    That said, this hasn’t really been my favorite series; I mostly enjoy the more hands-on topics, but I do realize this blog isn’t all about me:-)

  16. Todd says:

    I’m sorry, but doesn’t the opening line of the discussion on conceit really reflect a form of contempt?

    “Conceited people aren’t enjoyable to be around.”

  17. Johanna says:

    @Todd: Well, so does the declaration that “snarkiness has almost no value.” Coming immediately after the order to look for positive value in *everything*, that made me laugh.

  18. AnnJo says:

    “Contempt is a deep and negative character flaw that drives people away. It only attracts the small sliver of people who happen to agree with you.”

    I wish this were true, but historically, contempt for “the other” is a major feature of demagogery and building political unity among one group by demonizing those who disagree with any part of it. It seems to attract a substantial following, as demonstrated by talk show hosts Matthews and Maddow on the left and Beck (I think, haven’t listened to him) and O’Reilly on the right.

  19. John says:

    Trent, have you considered that the opposite of contempt might be grace?

  20. krisitne says:

    AnnJo- yes, our entire political public discourse is founded on contempt, not the exchange of ideas and empathy. Because it works in soundbites.

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