25 May 2010

Essay: Confidence

I find myself musing this morning on confidence. I have just started my own consultancy and am trying to use social media (i.e. this blog, Twitter) to market my business.

This all puts me in the public sphere, inasmuch as my business is me (metonymically, for we literary nerds), which is exciting but unnerving. This makes me wonder about confidence and what it means.

A contact, to whom I am grateful for my improving fluency on social media, suggested to me that the rules of online social etiquette are more flexible, yet brutal. As many of you know, people on Twitter will eagerly follow or unfollow you at will.

Confidence, it seems, is key to navigating through the mire of the world of communications and, in turn, the world at large.

It has always perplexed me that the word “confidence” means both “self-assurance” and “trust or assurance in someone else.” (There’s that trusty dictionary again.) But, for me, the whole concept of confidence as believing in oneself has connotations of independence and self-reliance that seem antithetical to any definition that includes putting trust in other people.

All of my favorite characters from literature, history, film, and opera exude confidence, though in vastly different ways.

Take Tosca from Puccini’s opera of the same name, for instance. A textbook diva (literally, as a singer), she is fiery, complex, and determined. She acts with confidence and self-assurance. When given the chance, she stabs the evil Scarpia without thinking. Out of superstition, she then sets up a Catholic funeral around his dead body, complete with crucifix and candles. Tosca is indubitably impulsive and passionate, is she truly confident? Yes, I would argue, but she is too vulnerable to be fully self-reliant so is confident only out of trust in her love for Cavaradossi.

In literature, there are heroines of all sorts who display a common independent will, alluring and confusing men, starting wars, or, shockingly, having their own opinions about the world. However, outside of a few exceptions (the works of Ayn Rand come to mind), literature is the same as opera in resolving confidence, particularly for women, as a combination of self-awareness and trusting in other people. If your life has no external reference, literature punishes you (e.g., Narcissus, the poet in Shelley’s “Alastor”).

But, then there’s Mozart’s Don Giovanni (on whom I’m giving a lecture on 3 July at 6:30 for Ashlawn Opera, if you happen to be in Charlottesville, VA). Self-reliant, self-made, he is fearless. Even being haunted by the ghost of the Commendatore he killed doesn’t seem to bother him. Don Giovanni is confident in a defiantly self-assured way and is, of course, sent to hell for his arrogance. Yet, he does so laughing all the way, sometimes with a bikini-clad hell-babe with him (as in a Royal Opera House version I saw in 2002).

Yet, if art is for the living, what of consequences? Don Giovanni realized his own mortality and decided to live his life as his own. He was confident. He had money and no responsibilities (Leporello doesn’t count), but he also fully accepted his ultimate fate.

Didacticism aside, all I can say is that we should all be a bit more fearless and a little less superstitious in our confidence. Being part of a human network is fabulous, of course. Yet, there is some logic to striving to be a happy human first and then networking.

Confidence, then, only without apology for the self-assurance that makes you curious and moves you forward.

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