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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Asserting that Chutzpah is a Virtue, not a Vice

Chutzpah has gotten a bad name.  Merriam-Webster online describes it as “supreme self-confidence”, which sounds good, but then “nerve, gall”, which does not.  Urban Dictionary, in character, calls it “unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall”.  Not good press.

Aristotle famously defined courage as the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, both demarcating its edges and establishing a general principle that virtue is a moderation between extremes.

Pirke Avot, a section of the Jewish Talmud and (I believe) the first self-help book of all time, says: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am for myself alone, what am I?  If not now, when?”

The first clause offers scope for chutzpah as a virtue, for what else is the elemental stuff of standing for oneself if not chutzpah?

I think we are on safe ground by taking a leaf from Aristotle’s book and defining chutzpah thus:

Chutzpah is the golden mean between self-effacement and shamelessness.

That’s the row I’ll try to hoe this year.  Breaking out of self-effacement while steering clear of shamelessness.