Sunday Snippet: Bernard Berenson (1865-1959)

“Life has taught me that it is not for our faults that we are disliked and even hated, but for our qualities.”

People are weird. Some people might be weirder than others, but we’re all weird. People just don’t make very much sense sometimes, even if we like to think of ourselves as logical and rational creatures. It continues to boggle the mind why we care so much about what other people think of us. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to one another, even if we tell ourselves that we probably shouldn’t be doing that.

If we were perfectly logical and rational creatures, we may choose to dislike someone because of their faults. We may not like Justine because she’s not very good with her money. We may not like Harold because he perhaps spends a little too much with puzzles and not enough time interacting with other people. But it’s not really a sense of dislike or disdain that we feel. If anything, it might be closer to a sense of pity. Poor Justine. She should learn how to reign in her spending habits. Poor Harold. He should get out more.

We like to think that we know better, like we know what is best for everyone else. But if Justine and Harold are perfectly happy doing whatever it is that they are doing, and they’re not hurting anyone else in the process, who are we to decide that they should be doing any differently?

The curious quote at the top comes from American art historian Bernard Berenson. Born Bernhard Valvrojenski in what is now modern day Lithunia, Berenson was widely regarded as a top authority on Renaissance art. If you wanted to very the authenticity of any given piece of artwork, he was the man to call. If you wanted to know more about the painting you just bought, he’d be the guy to tell you.

We may or may not completely agree with what Bernard Berenson is trying to say, but it really does make you think about how we evaluate our perception of other people. Perhaps it is with a certain sense of envy or jealousy that we come to hate certain people for their qualities. Maybe we dislike Justine because she doesn’t worry about money. Maybe we dislike Harold because he doesn’t crave social interaction. I’m not sure.

We might hate the so-called one percent because they’re rich. We might hate a college professor because he thinks he knows more than us (he probably does). We may have utter disdain for people who are born with a proverbial silver spoon in their mouths. Or people who seem to be incredibly popular everywhere they go. I’m not sure.

Faults can be overcome, but can qualities? Should they?