You have 4 free member-only stories remaining for the month. Subscribe now for unlimited access

Letters to the Editor:

Egoism, Part 1 — A Personal Essay

(Image by Sandid on Pixabay).

I realised some time ago that besides making my mark as an essayist in the commonly published way — you know, with a physical book, eBook, or both — I should also consider uncommon means of getting myself into print. No sooner had that thought occurred to me than others followed in rapid succession. First, I recalled something written by George Orwell in the Penguin Books collection of his essays, Why I Write. He said (abridged):

I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time. They are: 1. Sheer egoism, 2. Aesthetic enthusiasm, 3. Historical impulse, and 4. Political purpose.[1]

Of these four, sheer egoism (or egotism, if preferred?) sprang first to my mind, which spoke, in a candid and revealing way, to the prime motivator that appeared to be uppermost in it!

As an afterthought, it is, perhaps, no coincidence that Orwell cited egoism as the first of the four great motives for prose writing, being, as he was, an acute observer of human motivation and behaviour. Such personal motivation, i.e., massaging my ego, seemed borderline ignoble, but then I parried the small inner voice of apparent disapproval with ‘Well, I’m human, therefore I err’.

Or, as Maya Angelou, the late American civil rights activist, poet, and memoirist declared, ‘We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to me’. This is her interpretation (although I’ve seen variations of that statement) of ‘homo sum humani nihil a me alienum’ — attributed to Publius Terentius (Terence) the Roman playwright. My Latin is rusty, so correct me at your leisure. Somehow, I cannot picture Angelou as an egotistical person of note — even though she published several books of poetry, seven autobiographies, and three books of essays in her lifetime. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that she might, on occasion, have allowed her ego too much free rein, as many writers are likely to admit in their more honest moments.

On this point, by the way, Julian Baggini, the British philosopher, journalist, and author, wrote an insightful online article for the Guardian in 2015 entitled Why all writers are vain, in which he said:

I’ve met, interviewed, and shared stages with many authors over the years, and seen all too many signs of pride and oversensitivity to criticism. There is an inherent egotism in believing your voice matters.[2]

Baggini’s further statement affected my vanity and ego:

There is an inherent vanity in writing in which believing you have something special to offer the world is built into the very act of putting your work out into the world. However, that’s no reason not to do it. To strive to do most things of ambition or potential importance requires some element of vanity, which is at root nothing more than daring to believe that there might be some significance in what we insignificant creatures do.[3]

If vanity and egoism connected to people’s opinion of you is thought unchristian (Colossians 2:18), then there is also solace (for me, if desired) to be had in the stance taken in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (via Encyclopedia.Com), which states that egoism (with a caveat):

Incorporates certain basic truths: it is natural for man to love himself; he should moreover do so, since each one is ultimately responsible for himself; pleasure, the development of one’s potentialities, and the acquisition of power are normally desirable.[4]

No conflict between the two positions there, then.

But I’m rambling now. Back to Orwell. The second thought I had — more precisely what I remembered — was that Orwell was a journalist (among a myriad of other occupations, paid or otherwise, in his lifetime), first working as the literary editor for the democratic socialist newspaper (and later magazine) the Tribune and then as a war correspondent for The Observer.

I’ve linked my second thought, therefore, to the first, as Orwell is at their heart. The final thought was then but a logical extension, a sum of all its parts… essays and essayists + Orwell and Why I Write + journalism and newspapers + editor = letters to the editor. Of course, expressed like this, the thought process appears awkward and long-winded; how fortunate for me that the brain’s 86 billion neurons could play out that script for me in a nanosecond!

The conclusion: in considering uncommon means of getting myself into print as an essayist, I decided to write a letter to the Editor at the Times — parking any concern about my vanity and ego. It should be quite instructional. The letter’s subject and outcome? Read my next essay, Letters to the Editor: Egoism, Part 2.

Works Cited

[1] George Orwell, Why I Write (London, UK: Penguin Books, 2004).

[2] Julian Baggini, ‘Why All Writers Are Vain’, The Guardian, 2015 [accessed 15 July 2021].

[3] Baggini.

[4] G. J. Dalcourt, ‘Egoism’, Encyclopedia.Com, 2018 [accessed 16 July 2021].

. . .

(This article first appeared on Medium.com)

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Culture and Current Events, Non-Fiction, Opinion Piece, Personal Narrative