My buddy K has been skiing every Saturday since the December holiday break. He has never set foot on a ski slope before that. So, how many days of skiing does that make? Six, may be seven days. He can now negotiate black diamond slopes with ease. I on the other hand will never volunteer for any activity that calls for me to reduce the amount of traction between my feet and the ground. So I take assorted reading material with me, ranging from papers I need to catch up with over coffee in the early afternoon to Time and Newsweek to browse with beer as the evening draws out, and sit at the bar in the ski lodge, warm and cozy, while K is out having his adventures.
I know what you are thinking. You are saying “Wait a minute, why are you telling me this? And in any case why go at all if you are not going to ski?” The answer to the first question is coming later on in the narrative. So, to the second question first. As with any experience, you relish it fully only when you have somebody to talk to about it. This process allows you to relive the experience when it is still fresh, and you embellish it by magnifying the best parts, fading out the not so good parts, thereby storing this polished version for later access in your long term memory banks. And K is not able to find a suitable skiing buddy. So he drags me along, so that when he takes a break, he will have somebody to narrate his adventures to and so that I can go “Aaha, Oho, Ahaahaa” like in the bru coffee advertisement from a long time ago.
Ok, so what is the problem? The problem is with me saying “Aaha, Oho, Ahaahaa”. As the first two paragraphs of this narrative indicate, clearly I understand the need people have to narrate their experience. Also clearly, by any objective standard, K is adding rapidly to his skill set and hence ought to be admired. But, I find myself not even a little bit interested or awed. So, I asked myself, why is that? And when I think about it, I might use the word “admire” easily, but it is an emotion that I rarely feel. And this leads to me to ask a broader question namely, what is admiration really? And the following is the answer I came up with.
There is no such thing as “objective” admiration. The only way we feel admiration is if we imagine ourselves doing the thing we admire, i.e., the quality or skill has to be part of our “ideal” self image. By way of illustration, let me mention a few mundane things. I know many women who admire other beautiful (or well dressed, well made up if you like) women. But, since beauty is not part of my self image, either real or ideal, it does not evoke the emotion in me. Surprisingly, I admire people who dance well (I am thinking Madhuri or Hrithik or from my real life, some of my friends). Apparently, in my ideal self image, I wish dancing is a skill I possess (I sure as hell don’t in reality)! And the connotation to self image need not be direct, could be subtle. For example, it turns out I admire Jason Bourne (I recently saw Bourne Ultimatum and hence the thought). But is it because I wish I could kick people’s ass? No, it is because that character displays amazing presence of mind, albeit in a physical sense. And I sure as hell have presence of mind high up on my list of virtues. And if the hypothesis in the first line of the previous paragraph is indeed right (and among what data I have, I am not able to come up with a contradiction), then Jealousy and admiration are just a hair’s breadth apart from each other. If I think “Wish I could do that too”, that is admiration and if I think “Wish I could do that instead of him/her”, that is jealousy! Do you think what I am saying here holds water?