Monday, December 18, 2017

Bertrand Russell and more on Confidence.

For the last couple of weeks, for 12 hours-a-day I have been shoulder-to-shoulder with an Academy-award-winning director.

There's a lot we don't have in common--he is a great director, and I am just a copywriter. But there are a few things we do share.

We are both Jewish men of a certain age, with more than our quota of neuroses, insecurities and fears. And neither of us, for whatever reasons, is blessed with a great deal of confidence.

In fact, toward the end of our shoot, if I had a question to ask him, he would only listen to me if I didn't apologize first for having to ask the question, for interrupting him, for, as the kids say, getting up in his grill. Whatever that means.

Just yesterday, the great British copywriter and creative director, Dave Trott, sent me a "New York Times Magazine" article from December 16, 1951--66 years ago.

It was an article called "The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism" and was written by Bertrand Russell. It included what Russell called his "Liberal Decalogue," pasted here:

"Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
1.            Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2.            Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3.            Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
4.            When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5.            Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6.            Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7.            Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8.            Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9.            Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10.        Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

I worry, and always will, about people who find one true way, who have no second thoughts, who know the answers--and answer without doubts even questions they have answered hundreds of times before.

Our business, even if you are as accomplished as the aforementioned director, is not one of absolutes. There are almost always three or five or seven ways to skin a cat. I worry about autocrats in our business and in all things.

While it is no great pleasure to wrestle with self-doubt, it shows an openness to debate and discussion and, as my old man would say, beats being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

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