The Power of Contempt

2 minutes reading time

Do you remember those M&S adverts, with their sultry images and sumptuous descriptions of food? They practically had us dribbling whenever they came on.

Traditionally cured Scottish gravlax salmon with creamy mustard and dill sauce, hand prepared turkey with Braeburn apple and sage stuffing wrapped in maple-cured bacon. Lincolnshire red cabbage with apple and cranberries, slow braised in red wine, golden roasted parsnips coated with wild-flower honey and wholegrain mustard dressing.

It’s not just food advertising, advertisers and marketers are experts at dressing up products to make us covet and desire them. It doesn’t stop there. We want to be like the beautiful people we see on TV and, increasingly, in the other lives we’re shown via social media.

It’s easy for us to get carried away wanting to be like, or with others. We desire nice fancy clothes and toys, coveting the symbols of success that others appear to have. And when you get carried away, you’re more likely to do something silly or rash.

There’s a great exercise that the Stoics have, to help keep a more objective mind.

Just as when meat or other foods are set before us we think, this is a dead fish, a dead bird or pig; and also this fine wine is only the juice of a bunch of grapes, this purple-edged robe just sheep’s wool dyed in a bit of blood from a shellfish; or of sex, that it is only rubbing private parts together followed by a spasmic discharge–in the same way our impressions grab actual events and permeate them, so we see them as they really are. Marcus Aurelius

Use contemptuous language to break the spell and see the events for what they indeed are.

This is not just a pudding, this is a melt-in-the-middle, Belgian chocolate served with extra-thick Channel-island cream.

This is just pudding. It’s unfertilized chicken embryos, processed sugar and flour mixed with dried grapes. Topped with the fattier part of the liquid extracted from a cow’s mammary glands. Doesn’t sound so delicious now?

Those beautiful images we see—imagine how long the person took staging them to look perfect. Those nice clothes, think of the workers in the sweatshops toiling away to make them. Wishing for piles of money? Remind yourself of all the bacteria and filth that the coins and notes are covered with.

Use the power of contempt to strip away the fancy words to lay reality bare and reduce the power it has over you.


Got any questions or comments? Drop me a message on Twitter (@elaptics).