The question was first posed by Anne Shirley, beloved heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. Anne asked Matthew Cuthbert if he would rather be “divinely beautiful, or dazzlingly clever, or angelically good.” We added “amazingly talented” to the mix. All four traits have their advantages.
We all know people who are less talented than someone who is plainer, but they’ve climbed the ladder to stardom with minimal talent and good looks. Insert the name of any pop star here if you don’t believe me!
As far as brains go, does anyone think that Sarah Palin rose to national prominence because of her keen intellect? You can be half as smart if you are beautiful. Sad but true, appearances matter in many situations when they shouldn’t.
Maybe the right thing would be to choose “angelically good.” We’ve all taught our children that beauty is only skin deep and that what is inside matters most, but again Р if you are divinely beautiful and just average on the goodness scale, people will say “she is so beautiful and she is even pretty nice too.” It’s almost like beauty is a form of kindness.
I’ve often told my son to choose his future wife based on more than appearance. After about age 50, most of us look somewhat alike, but brains and kindness endure sags, wrinkles, and gray hair. However, in the weakness of the moment, I cast aside my noble thoughts and chose “divinely beautiful” for myself.
Of course I’m not serious. Long after beauty fades, intellect dulls, and talents diminish, a good, kind, and noble soul will be remembered and honored. If you asked me who I would choose for a neighbor, a spouse, a friend Р no doubt “angelic goodness” would prevail.
When it comes to choosing traits, it’s important to acknowledge that beauty, brains and talent are all somewhat luck of the draw. Goodness is the one trait that we have full control over. It’s nice to know that it’s the one that matters most.
My wife’s challenge is intriguing. Of the four traits, I would not select “good” because the ability to do good works can be maximized by someone who is talented and smart. Warren Buffet is in a better position to spread goodness than the kindly charitable guy who lives down your street.
I disagree with my wife’s choice of beauty or appearance. Angelina Jolie is beautiful, but much of her charisma comes from her charitable good works. In contrast, many consider an otherwise beautiful Kim Kardashian to be a train wreck.
I asked two 30-something women I work with what they admired most in a man. Neither mentioned any of my wife’s selections. One said she agreed with a recent survey that listed “nice teeth” as the most important characteristic. (“If you have nice teeth, the person also must care about his health,” she said.) The other hit on a type of “goodness.” The most important thing she looked for was good manners.
In choosing only one of the four characteristics, I’m split between being smart (clever) and being talented. The problem is I know a handful of very smart people who are also socially inept. Being smart doesn’t necessarily mean that one can earn a living, provide for a family or advance in a career. The fictional Hannibal Lector is smart, but doesn’t have a lot of dining partners.
That brings me to my last choice. Being talented or extremely capable in some endeavor will not automatically translate into wealth or prestige, but it does offer self-esteem. All of us are talented in one form or another; if we are fortunate, we can use that talent to form a career or at least pay the monthly bills, and we can also utilize that talent to perform charitable good works.
Sure, I would love to look like George Clooney, be noted for my goodness like Mother Teresa, and have the intellectual smarts (and bank account) of Bill Gates. But since I can dream, I would settle for having a talent that would define me to acquaintances and friends.