Verily mankind walketh in a vain show,

And his best state is vanity.

            This is a phrase from my favorite concert, Brahams’ German Requiem.

My wife, too, is fond of it, and we individually selected its “How lovely is thy dwelling place” for our choir’s music at our wedding.


Verily mankind walketh in a vain show,

And his best state is vanity.


I assumed that this vanity statement is from the Bible, but googling Bible concordances for an hour, I found no specific reference, and so perhaps this is Brahms’ own philosophy.  And, I agree, conceit, is a noble characteristic.  In fact, I found a statement from someone, I don’t recall who, though I’m sure it was a great philosopher, who stated that “the highest goal of a conceited person is to be complimented.”  Thus my conclusion is that we are all vain, and vanity is a good and desired quality.


At a small dinner party a while back I presented this perspective to my wife and the hostess. Wow! did I get smacked?  The barbs were so fast and furious I couldn’t dodge them.  My face is still pock-marked and my ears burnt. “Vanity is not a desirable characteristic,” they claimed.  “A vain person is not a good person, is not pleasant to encounter, and usually does not have the qualities he, or she, proclaims.”


Then they brought out the heavy artillery, the 155s: the dictionaries.  And as they read from Funk and Wagnalls, (Funk and Wagnalls! what kind of name is that?): “The quality or condition of being vain; excessive pride in one’s appearance, or accomplishments; conceit.”  Then they opened up Webster’s Unabridged. Dictionary…


I wasn’t listening any more; I was under the table, massaging my scalp, as I had severely bumped it while seeking shelter.  But now, my dear host, bless him, sensing the fray was turning bloody, announced that he would be serving dessert..


Now I consider myself to be an average person; a fair representative of mankind. If you post peoples’  I. Q.s on an X-Y graph, you’ll find a “bell” or “normal” curve. Some pretty dumb ones on the left, and some geniuses on the right, and right in the middle where it humps up you’ll find me, with an I Q of about 100; an average person, just an ordinary person. So, what I feel and interpret about vanity probably applies to most of us.


I need approval.  I exalt in approval. It cheers me to hear compliments, and if I don’t hear them, I will promote myself.  You see, people don’t really know how great I am, so I must tell them; tell them over and over.

My vanity assures me of my position in this world.  And you, too, must be vain, since I, as an average person, represent you. Recognize your qualities. And to inwardly strengthen your belief, be a Walter Mitty; dream of your possibilities.




I was rushing along the crowded sidewalk down town when I heard this scream: “Save her, save my baby!”  I looked out to the street and saw a phalanx of automobiles bearing down on this small tot, who had escaped her mother’s hand and wandered into the street. I didn’t need to think twice; I dashed out, dived to the pavement, picked up the girl, while doing a semi parallel roll, and stood up on the far side of the road, holding the crying child as the cars passed.  I crossed back and handed the weeping babe to the distraught mother, while the excited crowd poured accolades on me as I brushed myself off.  I would have hung around and enjoyed the thanks and attention, but I had an engagement and didn’t want to be late, so I threaded my way through the throng, headed for the luncheon where I would be reading my latest poetry.


Dream some more.

It was pretty comfortable flying in Air Force One, headed forWashington.

To occupy myself, I spent considerable time in the cockpit, and was even allowed to land the plane at Dulles. I had been summoned by the Joint Chief of Staff to an emergency meeting with the President. A shuttle helicopter landed me on the White House lawn, and I was guided into the Oval Office, where the somber group had assembled.  There was another hot spot inCentral Asia.  Troops were lined up on both sides of the border between Cinderaria and Flagragatia, both countries claiming petroleum rights to the area, and both countries headed by irrational leaders.  Someone had to talk with them, cool things down, and so I was designated a plenipotentiary, and immediately flown, with emissary immunity, to the combat zone. It wasn’t easy, for I hadn’t spoken Urdu for some time, but I prevailed and we shook hands all around. The next day the Dow-Jones climbed 230 points and the price of gasoline went down by twelve cents in theU.S.


Verily mankind walketh in a vain show,

And his best state is va-a-a-nity.

George W. Parker

July 2012

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