Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Agitation, Restlessness, Irritability, Suspiciousness
Stability, Serenity, Affability, Shrewdness
Saint of the Day, Tuesday, March 11, 1969
I had agreed to give you a lecture on pretentiousness and mentioned some symptoms of pretentiousness and unpretentiousness. I will now expound on these symptoms and other developments so that pretentiousness will no longer be for you a kind of smoke monster challenging to catch and control that one does not know how to fight. I have the impression that if I give you the symptoms, you will more easily perceive whether you are in a ‘state of pretentiousness’ and fight it more easily.
Some of the main symptoms of pretentiousness are: agitation, restlessness, irritability, suspiciousness and “pulling” or “rooting.”
The first item is agitation. While agitation is not produced only by pretentiousness, it always causes agitation. Why? Because when a person is pretentious, he is trying to impose a high idea of himself both on himself and others. This appetite leads him to make an effort that causes tension, and the person is ardently willing to justify this idea. This disordered desire causes agitation in the person.
For example, say he is going to give a lecture. If he is pretentious, he becomes agitated. Why? Because he has a strong desire to give an excellent lecture out of vanity. Since this desire is disordered, it produces agitation. Accordingly, a speaker may wonder whether he is pretentious if he becomes agitated before giving a lecture. Therefore, agitation is a symptom of pretentiousness.
Restlessness is another symptom of pretentiousness. Agitation is not quite restlessness, as a person can be agitated without being restless. Take, for example, a person to whom they say, “You have won a great prize. Here is the ticket; go fetch the lottery prize.” He arrives there agitated but happy rather than restless. Then you understand that agitation is not the same thing as restlessness. A restless individual is one afraid of some danger.
Anguish is extreme restlessness. Why does a pretentious person become restless? Because he always seeks to convey an image of himself much better than reality. He feels how difficult it is to achieve it, so he becomes restless in the face of failure.
A pretentious person always wants to make a big deal about himself. Let’s say a pretentious person can give a lecture equal to ten. He will never settle for that; he thinks his talk equals two hundred. Now, as he instinctively feels there is a high risk of not giving a lecture equal to two hundred, he becomes restless. Disquiet is a more Portuguese expression than disquietude, which is very French. Restlessness is an effect of pretense.
The second item is irritability. Why is a pretentious person irritable? Because he has such a great idea of himself that anything not in proportion to that idea irritates him. He becomes resentful.
Take an individual who pretends to be the greatest athlete in São Paulo. If he sees another person praising an athlete in front of him, he becomes resentful and angry. He says: “how can he praise this athlete in front of me, star and phoenix of athletes! How dare him to praise this other fellow who is but a drop of water next to this sea that is here!” He gets angry about anything.
The third item is suspiciousness. Why is he suspicious? A pretentious person is afraid they will realize he is not worth all that he pretends to be. As a result, he becomes suspicious and takes anything you say as turned against him. Why? Because a person who hides something is always suspicious. A pretentious man hides his worthlessness – or at least the fact that his worth is not as great as he imagines, and so he becomes suspicious.
Imagine that one of you, as a child, had lost an ear in an accident and began to wear a perfectly well-made, artistic wax ear that no one would notice. I ask: would you not have a lingering suspicion that someone was looking at your ear? Do we ever look at each other’s ears? Not even remotely, it does not even cross our minds. Yet, the person with the wax ear may wonder: “Hum! What is he looking at me for? What is he thinking of my ear?”
Every pretentious person has wax ears, a wax nose, a lot of things made of wax. He is part flesh and part wax. As a result, he [sees someone coming and] thinks: “This man is suddenly going to look askance at me with that ill will of his, and I realize that. How can he talk ill of me, he who is this and that?” The poor fellow did not even look at him. But that suspicion is the fate of people with ‘wax ears.’
Finally, you have “torcida” [‘rooting’ or ‘pulling’ for one’s team]. There is a straightforward reason for it. A pretentious person is never satisfied with anything. He is worth ten and imagines he is worth two hundred. He immediately thinks, “Why didn’t I keep telling people that I am worth a thousand?” In other words, he is always trying to raise the bar one step further. He lives in a ‘rooting’ state.
How to translate “torcida”? It is untranslatable. “Torcida” is a noun designating a group of a team’s supporters rooting during a soccer match and their fiery, anguished, factious partiality while ‘pulling’ or ‘rooting’ for their team. I do not know how to say it in Spanish, “torcida” being such a Brazilian institution.
(Is it because the person wants to play a role ever brighter and livelier than others?)
Yes, but there is a special form [of torcida] when the person has both the desire to achieve that and the fear of being unable to.
Let us now look at unpretentiousness. Stability, as opposed to agitation, is proper to unpretentiousness. An unpretentious person is stable and does not become agitated. Are any of you agitated about your ears at the moment? No one. Why? Because he is not pretentious who knows what he has. Let us say that someone has a physical or mental defect. If unpretentious, he is stable in that defect and not ashamed nor annoyed or anything else. He is entirely natural about it. It is like that, and that’s it. That quality gives stability.
Serenity is the opposite of restlessness. Serenity is not simply calm. In the imponderables of the Portuguese language, serenity is more than calm. It is a refined and prolonged calm imbued with well-being. Unpretentiousness gives serenity. The individual does not pretend to be more than he is, knows that he is not less than he is, and presents himself as he is. That’s it.
In opposition to irritability, unpretentiousness leads to affability. The unpretentious person is affable. What is an affable person? Affable is a person normally welcoming. When sought after, he tends to respond well; when asked for something, he usually gives it. He is prone to agree or to come to an understanding with others without being an idiotic ‘yes man.’ He is no fool but is inclined to agree where reasonable.
Instead of being suspicious, a unpretentious person is smart and has no startles. What is the difference between a suspicious and a smart person? The suspicious man is agitated: “he’s looking at me; what’s he thinking?”
The smart person is calm and analyzes things coldly. But he has a form of smartness that keeps him from having startles—he weighs things calmly, normally.
The pretentious person, as I said, is rooting all the time. The unpretentious is prone to trust in Providence, which is the opposite of rooting: “There’s no reason for rooting; God will give me whatever is in the ways of Our Lady; I will receive it.”
Here are some characteristics of pretentiousness and unpretentiousness. They are not exclusive of pretentious or unpretentious people, but those who experience symptoms of pretentiousness normally must suspect they are pretentious. However, they may be symptoms of something else. Those experiencing symptoms of unpretentiousness may find they are likely in a state of unpretentiousness, although sometimes, it might not be the case. But they are favorable signs to diagnose one’s state of mind.
(Are one hundred percent of people pretentious?)
One hundred percent of people tend to be pretentious, but not everyone gives in to pretentiousness. When I speak of pretentious, I mean those who consent to this defect.
(Is this consent an habitual state of the soul, or is it as an individual temptation?)
It could be one thing, and it could be another. It may be a chronic state of a soul, and it may be a soul tempted by pretentiousness. Usually, the soul is tempted by pretentiousness. He may make concessions from time to time or habitually live in the concession state.
(Do your examples present a person in a kind of growing pretentiousness?)
Yes, because it is easier to exemplify. But there are transitional states of concession to pretentiousness as well.
Here is something for us to discern pretentiousness in ourselves rather than in others: A demagogue is not affable. Most demagogues are intractable—at least in hours of solitude or intimacy. They are affable outwardly with forced affability. An unpretentious person has normal, natural, habitual affability in most cases.
I had a granduncle who was a chronic candidate for a congressman. Every now and then, he got lucky and was elected. To be elected, he smiled at everyone. I saw him get off the bus, walk past the bus driver, and take his hat off to thank him for stopping. As soon as he got home, his face changed. He put on a smirk and did not talk to anyone from when he came in for dinner until he went to sleep. He said he already knew everyone there and needed not to talk anymore. So here you see a pseudo-affable person who is extremely pretentious.
(I think there is a small problem when a person starts to do some soul-searching about these symptoms and notices signs of unpretentiousness. Would you advise us to make this exam if we see any of those signs?)
The very object of the examination on pretentiousness is first to look and see if we are trying to pretend to be something we are not. Secondly, if we are trying to show ostensibly what we are. Then we goes on to analyze every point of our behavior. These are collateral tests for checking our state of mind when we do not see clearly.
This lecture is a praise of unpretentiousness and a critique of pretentiousness. As you can see, an unpretentious person has peace of mind and inner well-being, while a pretentious one is unhappy. Do you want to be in the shoes of an agitated, restless, irritable, suspicious and rooting person? When you someone who is stable, serene, affable, smart and trusting in Providence, don’t you think that his situation is highly desirable? So, this is an invitation to practice unpretentiousness and receive already on Earth part of the prize one will have in Heaven. These are the two takeaways from this lecture.
Let us analyze a pretentious person theoretically, outside the Group. The advantage of doing it theoretically is that the analyst more easily learns to perceive the core and fabric of pretentiousness, which is necessary to combat this defect.
Here you have a side examination of conscience and an invitation to enjoy on Earth the happiness that unpretentiousness brings.
(For a person to have unpretentiousness and thus be affable, stable he needs to possess something. What would that be?)
In other words, he would need to have natural ears rather than wax ones, right?
That is something that everyone with an upright view of things has. “I was created by God, baptized, and being in the state of grace God delights looking at me from the highest heaven.” I need nothing else.
Do you want to see the opposite of this? Imagine they tell someone, “Look, so-and-so, as you were walking down such a street, the Queen of England passed by and said: Yes sir! That’s a young man, all right! This praise might shake that person’s unpretentiousness. Wow, the Queen of England, an expert in elegance and other such things, said: that’s a young man! This might give the person a temptation of megalice.
Now, isn’t God infinitely more than the Queen of England? However modest it may be, there is something in every being that makes it unique. God will never repeat that being. Now, being in the state of grace is so valuable that God lays His gaze on that person and makes His delight to look at him from the highest of Heaven despite having His infinite essence, Our Lady, all the angels, saints and the virtuous people on Earth to consider. So, every creature of God has something very noble and elevated, and God looks at it, however miserable the person may be by human standards.
(Is there something also in the sense that the person is certain he is following the vocation and is on the right path?)
Of course! That should also give the person self-assurance: “I am doing the will of God, I am following the path I should follow. Therefore, I can keep calm no matter how much others criticize me.” It is an element of tranquility and self-assurance one can use unpretentiously.
(Can a person want to be audacious and better than he is? St. Therese wanted to be a Crusader, a lot of things, and had big desires. Is to have big desires pretentious?)
Not when you have great desires for God’s sake as she did. Now, if the person thinks, “I wanted to be a Crusader because it’s beautiful to be a Crusader! All the world Catholic media would be announcing... [interrupted by laughter]. How beautiful it would be if I were a Crusader, a missionary, and at the same time a teacher! They would acclaim me as a teacher, and I would leave the teacher’s glory and go on to the missions! I would go to a leper colony and be hailed as the consolation of lepers! From there, I would wage war and leave far behind the glory of Saint Joan of Arc! My epitaph would read: here lies the disinterested soul that did everything!” A person who thought that would be in for at least a good purgatory! But St. Therese had none of that. She did everything for God’s sake.