Tsuyoku vs. the Egalitarian Instinct

Hunter-gath­erer tribes are usu­ally highly egal­i­tar­ian (at least if you’re male)—the all-pow­er­ful tribal chief­tain is found mostly in agri­cul­tural so­cieties, rarely in the an­ces­tral en­vi­ron­ment. Among most hunter-gath­erer tribes, a hunter who brings in a spec­tac­u­lar kill will care­fully down­play the ac­com­plish­ment to avoid envy.

Maybe, if you start out be­low av­er­age, you can im­prove your­self with­out dar­ing to pull ahead of the crowd. But sooner or later, if you aim to do the best you can, you will set your aim above the av­er­age.

If you can’t ad­mit to your­self that you’ve done bet­ter than oth­ers—or if you’re ashamed of want­ing to do bet­ter than oth­ers—then the me­dian will for­ever be your con­crete wall, the place where you stop mov­ing for­ward. And what about peo­ple who are be­low av­er­age? Do you dare say you in­tend to do bet­ter than them? How pride­ful of you!

Maybe it’s not healthy to pride your­self on do­ing bet­ter than some­one else. Per­son­ally I’ve found it to be a use­ful mo­ti­va­tor, de­spite my prin­ci­ples, and I’ll take all the use­ful mo­ti­va­tion I can get. Maybe that kind of com­pe­ti­tion is a zero-sum game, but then so is Go; it doesn’t mean we should abol­ish that hu­man ac­tivity, if peo­ple find it fun and it leads some­where in­ter­est­ing.

But in any case, surely it isn’t healthy to be ashamed of do­ing bet­ter.

And be­sides, life is not graded on a curve. The will to tran­scen­dence has no point be­yond which it ceases and be­comes the will to do worse; and the race that has no finish line also has no gold or silver medals. Just run as fast as you can, with­out wor­ry­ing that you might pull ahead of other run­ners. (But be warned: If you re­fuse to worry about that pos­si­bil­ity, some­day you may pull ahead. If you ig­nore the con­se­quences, they may hap­pen to you.)

Sooner or later, if your path leads true, you will set out to miti­gate a flaw that most peo­ple have not miti­gated. Sooner or later, if your efforts bring forth any fruit, you will find your­self with fewer sins to con­fess.

Per­haps you will find it the course of wis­dom to down­play the ac­com­plish­ment, even if you suc­ceed. Peo­ple may for­give a touch­down, but not danc­ing in the end zone. You will cer­tainly find it quicker, eas­ier, more con­ve­nient, to pub­li­cly dis­claim your wor­thi­ness, to pre­tend that you are just as much a sin­ner as ev­ery­one else. Just so long, of course, as ev­ery­one knows it isn’t true. It can be fun to proudly dis­play your mod­esty, so long as ev­ery­one knows how very much you have to be mod­est about.

But do not let that be the end­point of your jour­neys. Even if you only whisper it to your­self, whisper it still: Tsuyoku, tsuyoku! Stronger, stronger!

And then set your­self a higher tar­get. That’s the true mean­ing of the re­al­iza­tion that you are still flawed (though a lit­tle less so). It means always reach­ing higher, with­out shame.

Tsuyoku nar­i­tai! I’ll always run as fast as I can, even if I pull ahead, I’ll keep on run­ning; and some­one, some­day, will sur­pass me; but even though I fall be­hind, I’ll always run as fast as I can.