Dance in the Elevator, Dare to be Happy

Context: “Dare to be happy” were the words gifted to me by a V.I.P. in my life. Our conversation on happiness reminds me of recent shows I’ve watched, from Billions (Showtime) to Sex Education (Netflix) to Devil Wears Prada (Fox), hence this post on happiness was born. May we all kick start 2020 with happy vibes! 🙂

Let’s Dance with Ben Kim

For those who follow the US TV show Billions, I highly recommend checking out Ben Kim’s (hilarious and stunning) elevator dance scene (a.k.a. “public self-initiated humiliation”) in Season 3 Episode 10. Here is a clip:

Ben Kim’s hilarious elevator dance scene in “Billions” Season 3 Episode 10

For those who raise an eyebrow and go: “What is Billions?” I’d recommend giving the Billions show a shot – probably a good match for those who are looking for a smoothie blending together entrepreneurial vibes from Silicon Valley, juicy backstabbing from House of Cards, and legal heat from The Good Wife.

Back to the Ben Kim dance scene – I love it! Not to mention the clip on its own is funny, but also bear in mind that this is a very out-of-character move for Ben Kim. He is the type of person who wants to duck down rather than stand out, who prefers to sit downstairs with regular staff rather than sit upstairs in the C-suite, who aims to survive rather than thrive. His self-remark at his annual compensation review meeting with Axe is a vivid reflection of his personality:

I should not throw out the first number (of bonus that I would want to get), because I have a tendency to undervalue myself.

Ben Kim to Bobby Axelrod, Billions Season 3 (see clip here)

Ben Kim is the “good old guy” who feels happy at getting a new title while keeping the old salary. This pretty much sums up the trait that makes him stand out – and ironically, it is precisely the desire of him to not stand out.

You may pause here and ask: if Ben Kim is such a shy person who has trouble standing up for himself, where on earth did he garner the courage to dance (and strip his shirt off) in a lift with his big boss and complete strangers?

Answer: per the advice of Wendy Rhoades, the “spiritual animal” of Axe Capital, to step out of his comfort zone and have a voice of his own. (Though Wendy did try and failed to warn Ben Kim not to ruin the elevator ride with Axe and the fund’s potential investors.)

The elevator dance scene was a turning point for Ben Kim – afterwards, when Axe confronted him with a sharp: “What the hell was that?” Ben Kim, unlike his usual tongue-tied self when dealing with higher authorities, found the courage to spit out an investment idea he has held under his belt for a long time:

After spitting the investment idea out and receiving Axe’s pat on the shoulder, Ben Kim breathes a sigh of relief and is finally happy. He is happy because he has allowed himself to be happy by allowing himself to say what he wants to say – and this is no small feat for Ben Kim: a short while back, he had trouble peeing in the toilet after his half-fleshed out idea was challenged.

For Ben Kim, the question to ask is not: “Do you want to be happy?”
A better question to ask is: “Do you allow yourself to be happy?”
In other words: Do you dare to be happy?

Do You Dare to be Happy?

We tend to think of happiness as a wish beyond our control, when it could be and can be an option of our choice. We tend to think of happiness as an elusive goal to seize around us, when it could be and can be an inner state right within us. To borrow the words of the Bible to fit this context: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The question is not: can we be happy?
The question is: why can’t we be happy?

The question is not: why doesn’t this (thing or person) make us happy?
The question is: why don’t we allow ourselves to be happy?

Hence the ask is not about wanting to be happy, but about daring to be happy: Do we dare to dance in the elevator like Ben Kim? Do we dare to be crazy in the eyes of others and crazily happy in the eyes of ourselves? Do we dare to strip free of our shirt (metaphorically) alongside the weight of caring too much about how others look at us?

Ironically, in a sense the ask is about whether we truly want to be happy – because if we truly, desperately, seriously want to be happy with all our heart, then we would dare to be happy. Then we would overcome each and every single fear. Then we would say “go to hell” to any doubt, any worry, any fear. Then we would care about and only care about our happiness, because we want it so much.

If we truly want something badly enough, we would not hesitate to go for it. The “dare” would hardly be a hard choice – it would be natural step we take without hesitation. Ben Kim wanted to prove to Wendy – and ultimately to himself – that he could have an independent voice that he is daring to dance half-naked in the elevator.

It’s Not Crazy to be A Little Crazy

I’m a big fan of the song “Crazy” by Alanis M. as featured in the movie Devil Wears Prada. Quoting the lyrics:

But we’re never gonna survive, unless
We get a little crazy
No we’re never gonna survive, unless
We are a little crazy
– – –
In a sky full of people,
Only some want to fly,
Isn’t that crazy?

“In a sky full of people, only some want to fly. Isn’t that crazy?” I love this sentence – what is crazy is not that some people want to fly, but that so few people want to. What is crazy is not that some people day-dream, but that so few people do.

Where is the fun in life if we never get crazy? If we never experience something in life that we did not already predict? If we never dare to be happy and go against the inertia of “life as yesterday”?

Last but not least, I share the MTV of “Crazy” with you – may (a healthy dose of) crazy vibes bring us happy vibes! Cheers to a happy 2020 where we dare to be happy, dare to be crazy, and dare to be free! 😀

A Tale of 3S: Self-Esteem, Selfishness, Sexuality

Ayn Rand’s Three “Hallows” of Life

Ayn Rand, a 20th-century philosopher known for championing Objectivism, proposes three hallows that one must hold “as the supreme and ruling values” of life:

  1. Reason: as the “only tool of knowledge”;
  2. Purpose: as the “choice of happiness” that reason serves;
  3. Self-Esteem: as the “inviolate certainty” that one’s mind is “competent to think” and one’s person is “worthy of happiness”.

Elan Journo summarizes Rand’s definition of self-esteem into two key questions: Am I able? Am I worthy?

Selfishness = What Defines Self-Esteem?

What do selfishness and self-esteem have in common?

Other than they start with the same first 4 letters – this does not count.

Check out this answer given by John Galt, a key character in Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged“:

“The first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which…seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself.”

For Rand, selfishness is the fundamental prerequisite for self-esteem:

The attack on “selfishness” is an attack on man’s self-esteem; to surrender one, is to surrender the other.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

It is common yet unfortunate for us to measure our self-esteem based on how much esteem (we perceive) others to accord us. Thus, it is ironical that we have dropped the first half of “self-esteem” – the values of the “self” are lost, contrary to what Rand suggests. We measure our self worth based on external factors such as exam scores, salaries, praise from others etc., Yet, the more emphasis on we put on pleasing others, the more vulnerable our self-esteem is to collapsing, and the more difficult it is to break free of the puppet strings of (imaginary) societal pressure that are tightening.

Of course, Ayn Rand’s advocacy of selfishness has been under attack. The word “selfish” itself has negative connotations – when we say someone is selfish, we often mean it as a vice of being insensitive or inconsiderate of others’ needs. Rand acknowledges this:

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests. This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

Rand goes on to critique altruism & altruistic acts. For one thing, she sees it as contradictory with the rule of “everyone watchout for himself” in the “survival of the fittest” game of evolution:

Since nature does not provide man with an automatic form of survival, since he has to support his life by his own effort, the doctrine that concern with one’s own interests is evil means that man’s desire to live is evil—that man’s life, as such, is evil. No doctrine could be more evil than that.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

In addition, Rand makes a nuanced point that we must pay attention to the “difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery”:

The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

To paraphrase, Rand argues that every man has a moral duty to oneself to be “selfish”, i.e., prioritize one’s values and live up to one’s moral code. However, being “selfish” (in Rand’s definition) does not prevent us from forming a value judgment on whether a value system is justified. We could still say that a robber’s selfish pursuit of seizing other’s property by force is morally wrong. However, what is wrong here is the robber’s underlying moral code, not the fact that the robber was going after his code.

For Rand, being relentlessly selfish means relentlessly going after one’s goal, and this desire to act is to be applauded. Going after one’s goal (selfish) is a different ethical question from whether the goal itself is an honorable one. What Rand is really applauding by applauding selfishness is the audacity & perseverance in working hard towards one’s goal – she is not arguing that all goals are equally honorable. Viewed in this light, the word choice of “selfish” could mislead us in understanding Rand’s arguments.

How is Sexuality Tied to Self-Esteem?

A man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life.

Francisco in Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

Frank Underwood said (in)famously in the show House of Cards: “Everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.”

Image result for frank underwood power

Whereas Frank looks outwards at what sex reveals about our relationship with others, Ayn Rand looks inwards at what sex says about our view of ourself. Whereas Frank believes sex is about one’s desire to dominate others, Rand argues – or rather her fictional character argues – that sex is about one’s drive to control & gain self-esteem.

Rand distinguishes between two types of men – those with low vs. high self-esteem. The first group aims to “gain self-esteem from sexual adventures”, which Rand thinks is a futile attempt, “because sex is not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a man’s sense of his own value.” The second group with higher certainty in their self-worth “will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer – because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement ,not the possession of a brainless slut.”

(Man) will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience – or to fake – a sense of self-esteem.

Francisco in Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

To conclude, according to the Rand school of philosophy, self-esteem is defined & rooted in “selfishness” (stay true and devoted to one’s moral code), and manifested & reinforced in sexuality. Together, the 3S form an intricate web and help us answer two questions core to our identity: Am I able? Am I worthy?