Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Landlord Sins - Pride

Perhaps without realising it, modern-day landlords are part of an ancient tradition, and are uniquely positioned to benefit from the timeless wisdom distilled into the seven deadly sins.

While it is good to appreciate our blessings, we know that it is wrong and somewhat offensive to be too proud. Envy soon gives way to eye-rolls as acquaintances flood social media with posts of their new pet, relationship, child, or house.

But what is Pride?
  • Is it Pride to reveal I bought in at the bottom of the market?
  • Is it Pride to celebrate being mortgage free?
  • Is it Pride to write 'landlord' as my occupation?
  • Is it Pride to expect my wishes regarding the property to be carried out because I own it?
  • Is it Pride to consider that my time in the market makes me an authority?
    (Hint: yes, obvs. See 'Dunning-Kruger effect')


'Pride', like anger, is complex and not all bad. Though we were schooled in the virtue of humility, being overly meek may be counter-productive. Fredrickson and Bagozzi's modern studies on pride have shown that it can enhance performance and even altruism.

In this day and age where we see balanced self-esteem as being healthy, we can distinguish between 'good' pride: a realistic and temperate contentment with one's actions, abilities, or circumstances; and hubris, which has a meaning that's just as douche-y as it sounds.

Where then is the line between pride and hubris?
"I made my own luck."

'Hubris' has roots in the Greek hybris: "wanton violence, insolence, outrage" and has also been taken to mean a presumption toward divinity. Consider also the Latin for pride, Superbia.

Hybris accords with Aristotle's narrow definition of hubris: when the unreasonably self-assured believe their fortune gives them license to harm others. (John Gay and Dante similarly define the sinful version of pride.)

Hubris to me goes beyond Augustine's pride as a love of one's own excellence, to concluding that your exceptionalism entitles you to special treatment. Lucifer doesn't just believe in his own (very real) superiority, he insists on being worshipped for it.

Because of its role in the falls of Lucifer and mankind, pride is considered the deadliest and most insidious sin. It is loving your own divine qualities so much that it perversely separates you from true divinity. And now we know HOW pride goeth before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Unlike the envious, the hubristic are blessed with awareness of their strengths and shortcomings, and believe the former inoculates them from the latter.

A good thing then that Aristotle thought that both pride and hubris were rare. For (good) pride, you actually needed something exceptional to be proud about. Winning an auction, getting a promotion, or watching your little snowflake's school recital are mere participation trophies; things you could be justifiably content with but not technically 'proud' of. Hubris was then that pride that led to a belief in impunity.

Religious Remedies for Pride

Resources for dealing with pride tend to be religious. But let's face it, landlords generally aren't a pious bunch otherwise we wouldn't go to such lengths to amass earthly wealth. Repairing a pride-damaged relationship with God isn't a priority if you don't really value that relationship.

Nevertheless,  Del Val's Litany of Humility is prosaic and highly recommended.
"From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus."
The concept that even relief from hubris cannot be achieved alone is a massive shift in perspective.
"In comparison, people are maggots; we mortals are mere worms." (Job 25:6)
Perspective is the key for landlords who want to address their pride. Job had God to put him in his place, but landlords need a more relevant connection to their own unimportance. Dante had the proud chained to heavy stones to keep them bowed, but perhaps their punishment should be to soar. I believe knowledge, not authority, imparts humility to the secular.

The Rooftop Remedy™

Go up on your roof. This will only take a few minutes. You don't need permission. If anyone questions you, you can give them the:
"Don't you know who I am?"
Like a boss.

Now, note how many roofs look exactly like yours. Note how many backyards are identically sized and shaped. If you own an apartment in a block, walk across all the floors and ponder how many apartments are made exactly like yours, down to the centimeter.

You may own one or a few, but is that anything to be proud of when so many others own the rest? Being a landlord may be uncommon, but it is not unique. Other landlords are competing in the same market, solving similar problems, and reaping similar rewards. If you notice that some of them made questionable decisions, then you need to admit that you could have too.

It could then have been that luck has unknowingly saved you from pits that your 'skill' dug. (Seriously, check out the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

Listing Luck

"We make our own luck" is a popular aphorism among the ignorant. However, Robert Frank has shown that (non-self-made) luck plays a far bigger role in our lives than we give it credit for. Also, if you say that you make your own luck, you're probably ignorant to how much it makes you look like an asshole.

In fact, it may be slothful to maintain ignorance of the many instances when the luck we 'made' flowed from luck we did not.

Listing how we have been lucky in life tempers our pride. (It also makes us more generous.)
  • Able to maintain and sustain a rental property? Luck.
  • Found a good tenant? Found good agents? Luck.
  • Had some family help with the purchase? Luck.
  • That lucky tip to repair something that saved you from prosecution? Luck.
  • Someone intervening in a dispute that could have seen you sued? Luck.
  • Own in a country where property rights are respected? Luck.

Remove from your control the credit for your results, the significance of your achievements, and even your ability to moderate pride, and what are you left with? Hopefully, a realistic and tempered contentment.

Realising how unworthy we are of pride may save us from hubris.

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