Different philosophies float in the air and we get a whiff of all as we try to make sense of this ambiguous world. Everyone believes in something or someone - God, Aliens, optimism, energy, science, etc. - or even multiple things, that help them get some clarity and direction. Of the number of things that I believe in, one of them is words. It is believed that one of the major factors because of which ‘homo’ is always followed by ‘sapiens’, which means that we have outlived all of our cousins in the genus ‘homo’, is that we had a language to help us. The refinement of our language, the ability to convey multiple real and imaginary things through succinct words is what helped us survive. However, we are so disenchanted with the banal existence of words that we barely try to analyse the ones we generally use, let alone embrace new ones. One of such underrated words is vanity.
If one Googles the meaning for vanity (given the fact that we don't use dictionaries anymore), it tells us that the word is a noun that could mean excessive pride in oneself, as well as the quality of being worthless. Seeing them separately, we use the meaning that serves our purpose, but put in that previous sentence together, does it not make you think of the duality of the word? It's emblematic of pride and worthlessness at the same time. This tiny word in itself throws a lot of light on this world we live in. It is not just a duality of the word, it's a duality of life in general.
Vanity is usually confused with narcissism, disparaging the word’s image so much so that it's one of the seven deadly sins of Christianity. What we usually miss here is that thin line that, these days, we so precariously tread to nonchalantly fall on either side for all we care. We don't realise that while vanity is only self-love, narcissism is self-love with intemperate disregard for humanity. Ironically, narcissism doesn't find a place in deadly sins.
Is the self love that evil? That’s a question that revolves around this word and the duality of this word. In this competitive world, isn't our excessive pride the only the thing that we can lean on? To love oneself and take pride in being oneself is not synonymous with desecrating others. However, due to the norms surrounding us, where selfless is the ideal, we see our pride aligning with the connotation of being worthless. Is our excessive pride worthless or is it the norm that is outdated? That is something that we as individuals have to decide for ourselves.
Looking at the other end now, even the reverse is true. For people who feel worthless, vanity comes as a salve. It's the defence mechanism that Freud overlooked but is the wall that supports us in today’s time.
Look at it from North or from South, or from both ends, the word, vanity, gives an insight into the human psyche. The concept of what we consider evil, the idea of our defences and our self-esteem, all of it can be studied on the basis of this one word. Words say more than just communicate. The thought behind the providing them meaning says a lot about us as a human race. Hence words are one of my favourite areas of analysis and in Al Pacino’s words, "vanity is my favourite sin."