It’s been a week for humble pie. All that apologizing following the hoo-haa at this year’s Oscars ceremony was followed by an expression of regret from multi-billionaire businessman, Sir Philip Green, as he, finally, filled up (the BHS) pension pot. The Oscars were dealt with quickly, at the scene. Green (who sold the ailing store for a quid in 2015 and so triggered the loss of 11,000 jobs) took his time and a lot more hot-air. It’s been two years of opprobrium for him but he’s huffed and puffed and avoided an apology all the way. From his initial ‘this is just business’ brush-off to threatening and snarling through two parliamentary select committees. Until finally this week he issued a statement; “…I would like to apologise to the BHS pensioners for this last year of uncertainty, which was clearly never the intention when the business was sold in March 2015. I hope that this solution puts their minds at rest and closes this sorry chapter for them.”
So what finally bought the multi-billionaire to this touch of humbleness? An attack of the conscience? Unlikely, it was probably the threat of the ultimate disgrace – his achilles heel – being stripped of his “Sir”.
The hypnotic sway of the British Honours Committee was, also bought to our attention recently by the leaked emails of David Beckham – a man, his expletive- ridden messages reveal, on a mission to become a knight of this realm. But alas for him, his beloved manipulating image-machine, that works so tirelessly to portray him as genuine, loving, patriotic, and charitable, had gone on the blink; his lordy plans derailed.
So what is it about these honours and awards, (and the titles or gongs that go with them), that so enthralls the very rich who – after all – already have plenty? What is it they seek – that they can’t buy? What does ‘honour’ really mean to them? Does it satisfy their inner-child, that niggling need for applause, adoration, acceptance… Or is it more about a public show of importance and feelings of invincibility, superiority, nobility…
Whichever it is; it’s a heady thing. As intoxicating as a nasty narcotic.
We know this because we see the great lengths people will go to protect their public profiles. From politicians (Bill Clinton to Anthony Weiner), to sportsmen (Lance Armstrong to Tiger Woods) , and celebrities (Kate Moss to Kim Kardashian) – they have all, at some point, faced questions over their high-standing (and found themselves in need of a reputation manager, sharpish).
Taking pride in one’s achievements and then wanting to protect them isn’t necessarily wrong. But there’s a thing about pride – too little and we are a cowardly mess. Too much and we become bound up in ourselves (and our mistakes), all trumped up.
So for the narcissistic, there’s another very rewarding side to receiving prestigious honors and awards; an immunity – from us (the commoners) – and protection from the nastier side of their personality (disorders)…
There’s an interesting split in the creative world between those who take the honors and those who refuse them. It seems it’s comes down to personal psychology – from those who seek it’s validation to those who feel it’s richly deserved. These people believe in our ‘systems’ (and likely, are a little bit royal struck too). Then there are those who think the recognition meaningless or pointless – the anti-establishment. Some want to make a political point (Benjamin Zephaniah), others don’t feel they warrant the recognition (Danny Boyle, Jon Snow, French & Saunders), more likely they feel it’s not what they’ve been working for (David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger).
You can feel some empathy for those in the former camp – the ones who welcome the reward. In a world where they (the ‘famous’) have so little control on what’s said about them (on the internet), these gongs seem to give them a sense of security, (see them hug those Oscars), and that statuette or medal becomes a physical embodiment of our validation.
So now we know why Green probably didn’t want to lose his knighthood – his reputation, tarnished or otherwise, is in the hands of others – to keep control he needs to keep the “Sir” and if a little apology means he can, then a little apology is what the BHS workers will get (under his terms, of course). As a representation of his ‘achievements’ then being called “Sir” seems to mean more to him than anything. And mega-yachts don’t talk.
Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.”
― Kahlil Gibran
The literary world is very, very good at giving prizes. And the idea to reward and celebrate achievement is laudable (let’s not be cynical; it’s not all about sales or back-slapping). But interestingly writers are not writing the stories about winning honours and awards (or missing out, as the case maybe). Nor do we have many stories centred on a concern for public reputation (and there’s very little out their about ‘personal branding’). Time then to take more of a creative look at the ‘honorary’ world and it’s hold on us.
For more on the many faces of a narcissistic personality disorder:
Read: Without pride, no other sin could flourish:
BBC R4 – The Ideas That Make Us: Narcissism with Bethany Hughes
Featured Image: Sunday Times