It is an interesting distinction. But which motivates us? A resonating message from our consumer based culture is that pleasing ourselves is not such a bad idea. And of course, it isn’t. But does it take priority over pleasing others? Are we happier, for example, when we prepare an amazing dinner … for ourselves? Of course not. It is much more fun to cook for and dine with friends and loved ones.
Then we might ask this more difficult question. Assuming that we get pleasure from others, how much of that is pleasure from giving to them? And BTW, how good are we at giving pleasure? In a way, these are old fashioned questions. They harken back to the era of “service” — where somewhat rigid standards were enforced in the name of satisfying others.
I am thinking, for example, of a 1938 movie called My Man Godfrey. In the film, formerly rich and still sophisticated Godfrey, played by William Powell, learns the pleasures of being a butler. And while the rich and privileged benefited from high standards expected from servants, they too were bound (at least in name) to serve the higher purposes of society. Leslie Howard was often quite good at displaying this value, for example, in the ending scene of the 1934 film, The Scarlet Pimpernel.
With this background, you can appreciate how jarring the language is in Mark Bittman’s NYT article today about Simon Hopkinson. It starts off like this
There are chefs who cook for notoriety, or for their own gratification, and there are those who cook for the pleasure of others. Those of the second type certainly cook to make a living, but they’re motivated to guarantee that their customers have real pleasure, as opposed to demonstrating their own brilliance.
What! Are there chefs out there who cook just to demonstrate their own brilliance? Gluttons for self-gratification who fail to deliver “real pleasure” to their clients? Well, it is likely not such a black and white thing. And still … one can sense the difference. When one is focused on giving pleasure rather than making demonstrations, one feels comfortable with understatement. And understatement, BTW, is a value that I miss.
FOLLOW - So what does understatement look like? Well … these days one might be forgiven for confusing understatement with being boring. But check out Toni Bentley’s piece about Fred and Adele Astaire and you get a sense of Fred’s brilliant, understated artistic style.