Without any conscious idea as to how, I found myself meandering into the domain of self-evaluation. Sitting amongst a group of schoolmates, the topic of conversation turned suddenly to deliberately fostering an environment of positivity. As we sat in a circle, every member of the group was required to name various features of themselves that they were most proud of.
To be clear here, such a topic of discourse is not one I engage in regularly. I am by nature a critical individual, and have little patience for features of myself that are, by definition, not worth considering. Characteristics that are flawed or inadequate are the sole focus of my attention, as these are the ones that need it most. It is very rarely that I stop to consider the fruits of my labor in such a manner.
What physical feature are you most proud of? Err…eyes, I suppose. Which school subject do you excel in? Quantitative methods. What instrument are the best at? Piano and flute. What was your biggest accomplishment? Co-founding an orchestra in 10th grade. What is the nicest compliment someone’s ever given you? Critical thinker. What is your most useful technical skill? Programming.
What personality trait do you like best about yourself?
When it came to my turn to speak, my mind blanked. Indeed, what personality trait do I like best about myself? The previous considerations had all possessed some empirically demarcated standard by which to relay pride: number of compliments, instrumental grade level, CV, classes taken, work experience – to name a few. But the question of personal trait was one purely founded on subjective pride, and it is on such a purely preferential inquiry that I stumbled.
Sense of humor? No, too trivial. Analytical? True, but implies other characteristics that I believe I already posses. Adaptable? Too context-specific. Compassionate? That would be lying. Charming? Only as a tool. Any number of these traits were heady and perched on my lips, ready to hold the crowd momentarily before the spotlight moved on. I readied myself to mention any of them.
“Ruthlessness”, I blurted out.
The resulting silence was more awkward than a 17-year-old virgin and his best friend’s little sister fumbling with a condom wrapper on homecoming night. Awkward as fuck. Eventually however, the sharing circle continued and the spotlight moved on. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding.
That being said however, it has occurred to me as I sit here writing this, that such an awkward statement was perhaps the closest to the truth I could have offered. Because ruthlessness is certainly a quality that I possess in all its functional abundance, and it is one which much of the general populace seems to lack.
Ruthlessness is premised upon the will to act. It always seeks optimality; an eye fixated on what is best, regardless of who it is best for and what one must accomplish to get there. Ruthlessness is not ambition, although they are brothers in kind. Ambition without action is insignificant, action without ambition is unnecessary.
Ruthlessness understands that compassion is not always weak, although it often is. Ruthlessness implies a sense of thoroughness and foresight – some goals require consideration of long-term potential. Ruthlessness does what is necessary, not what one deems is necessary. Ruthlessness understands that if one cannot be both, it is always better to be feared than to be loved. Ruthless understands that duplicity is a necessary component of prophecy, and that loyalty is both rewarding and dangerous. Ruthlessness remembers that if you destroy your enemy, you must also destroy those he loves. A child today becomes the vengeful adult of tomorrow, and ruthlessness understands that destruction of the innocent is often necessary. Ruthlessness nurtures goodwill in those who are useful to him. Ruthlessness acknowledges that while friendship is beautiful and important, one should not make a habit of surrounding himself with incompetence.
I suppose that the exposition thus far may come across as manipulative and cruel. I do not deny either. Manipulation is a tool which in and of itself is morally neutral. As for cruelty, one should remember that cruelty may in turn be understood as courage – courage to do what is necessary despite common protestation. That is not to say however, that one cannot revel in the misfortune of others. On the contrary, observing the suffering of one’s enemies should be a joyous occasion, for it demonstrates the destruction of opposition to the greater good.
There is no shame to be found in such glory.