“Vanity, I am sensible, is my cardinal vice
and cardinal folly; and I am in continual danger, when in company, of being led
an ignis fatuus chase by it.” — John Adams


As is true for Adams, most
people have become convinced that vanity is a bad quality to have. In fact, it
may actually be a cardinal vice which makes it more than bad; it’s terrible. If
one explores this negative pronouncement in more depth, though, it ain’t
necessarily so. For example, Lord Chesterfield said, “To this principle of
vanity, which philosophers call a mean one, and which I do not, I owe a great
part of the figure which I have made in life.” There you go. Chesterfield thought vanity was one of the
keys to his success.


It may be that vanity is little more than one of those things
that is just going around. If so, even you may have a little yourself. As
Blaise Pascal suggested, “Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone
wants to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this.” No less an
icon than Mark Twain said, “There are no grades of vanity, there are only
grades of ability in concealing it;” and there is no end to how clever people
can be when concealing it. To illustrate, Louis Kronenberger suggested this
strategy, “Nothing so soothes our vanity as a display of greater vanity in
others; it makes us vain, in fact, of our modesty;” so if you are uncomfortable
with vanity, substitute modesty about being not so vane as some people you
know. Just be sure to cleverly conceal it.


François de la Rochefoucauld is another one of the folks who got
it, “What makes the vanity of others insupportable is that it wounds our own.”
Benjamin Franklin got it too, “Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever
share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter, wherever I meet
with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor,
and to others who are within his sphere of action: and therefore, in many
cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his
vanity among the other comforts of life.” Antonio Porchia also understood,
although he did slip in “ridiculous,” probably as a minor concession to the
vanity police, “Without this ridiculous vanity that takes the form of
self-display, and is part of everything and everyone, we would see nothing, and
nothing would exist.”


Fortunately, there is a much better approach. You can simply
re-conceptualize. What folks refer to in you as vanity isn’t vanity at all.
Rather, it’s merely a reflection of your positive self-perception. It’s what
the psychologists call a good self-image. If someone accuses you of vanity,
just smile and say:


I’m not a giant or a meek little lamb. I am me, that’s who I am.
I’m taller than a cat and shorter than a tree. I’m the very best me you’ll ever
see.


I like to laugh, I like to smile. I like to daydream once in a
while. I’m extra special but I’m still just me. I’m the very best me I know how
to be.


I always try to do my best. I’m good at a lot of things and
getting better at the rest. Here’s the truth for everyone to see. It’s totally
terrific being me.


I could
tell you more stuff about who I am. I like spaghetti and strawberry jam. Here
at last is the most spectacular part. I’m extra special because I’m soooo smart.