One Dimensional Candidates!

The other night I watched a debate on TV between two contenders for the leadership of the Irish conservative party (Fine Gael), Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. One gave a typical one-nation paternalistic rant while the other represented the usual market driven economy made famous by the late Mrs. Thatcher. But one got the impression that neither of these two candidates could stand up to any form of scrutiny of their own persona. Both presented themselves to the viewers as the human version of their own over exaggerated and polished written resumes; embellished much in the American style. But their real resumes must be more than these lists of achievements. This leaves a lot to be desired, as we need to know more about the whole person. After all, we are not looking for a skills machine or a marketing image, but for reliability in decision making and depth in character.

The option for the voters is which of these two limited resumes should they go for? Creating the right perception is the key in modern political contests or in everyday interviewing, for that matter. Then I began to wonder what their real resumes would look like? A lot different, I suspect.

In one of David Brooks’ books, “The Road to Character”, published about two years ago, he used Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s thoughtful division of the Book of Genesis into two accounts which he called Adam 1 and Adam 11. Brooks used this division as an analogy for the two accounts we often use of our own lives: the public resume version and the deeper person centred one. Now, I am not questioning the honesty of either of our two conservative politicians, but what I am saying is that our culture pushes most of us to live and believe what our public resume version tells us, and this is usually what others want to hear. We avoid Adam 11, and over time fail to connect with our real selves.

This brought me to Leo Tolstoy’s, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” which was first published over 130 years ago, as if Tolstoy was anticipating our modern age, while trying to work out his own meaning of life. His main protagonist, a lawyer and magistrate, is not really a cold or formal personality, nor is he a wild and undisciplined one, but rather, “an intelligent, polished, lively, and agreeable man.” Just like many MBA students we can find in any business school today. And, like many of our MBA students, he defined himself according to his public resume (Adam 1) and avoided any mention of Adam 11.

Adam 1 is utilitarian logic, which was promoted by Jeremy Bentham (1784-1832) and by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). An overall view of Utilitarianism is that it promotes the greatest good for the greatest number, gives rewards for effort, demands the need to impress the world, and encourages the pursuit of self-interest.

But can the modern young person be blamed for sticking to their first resume? After all, MBA students have ambitions and want both financial and psychological benefits for their efforts. They want individual recognition, personal satisfaction and financial benefit. According to David Brooks, “The consumer market encourages us to live by utilitarian calculus”. MBAs develop those skills that will help them to achieve this end, and any mention of Adam 11 just draws a yawn and a look of “not relevant to me” across their faces.

The ultimate arbiter of what is relevant is the authentic self without any reference to anyone else. Indeed, we could say that we want to maximise pleasant experiences and to guard against pain and vulnerability, to maintain control over our individual lives. People judge others by their ability to achieve these ends. Indeed, everything can be seen through the lens of costs and benefits; an economist’s view of life. But in the long run although the Adam 1 approach will often bring material success and recognition, yet these Adam 1 people often remain out of touch with their real selves.

But we have known this for a very long time and many personalities have commented on it, but little in reality has been done to introduce students to Adam 11. Young people are still being urged to beef up their CVs, improve their interviewing skills, work on their self-confidence, and to have a clear career vision. All of which are absolutely valid as long as they are encouraged to develop a balance to their Adam 1 resume.

Finally, in my opinion Mrs May in her Adam 1 mode is continuously personally attacking her opponent‘s persona rather than his policies. Whether or not she likes Jeremy Corbyn, he does deserve respect. But respect is an Adam 11 characteristic.

Some ideas on Adam 11 will be the subject for a forthcoming post.