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I'm assigned to read the book called Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple, and I'm reading a quote in the book, but I don't really understand it.

“Such flattery is thus the death of aspiration, and lack of aspiration is, of course, one of the causes of passivity.”

What on earth does this quote mean? I'm literally confused between either the lifestyles (classes) in which people live their lives today, or how people suffer penalties from getting into things just as they’re falling apart. I could be wrong on both though. Any light?

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Without further context, I'd have to say the passage's meaning lies in something like the following progression.

  1. One lives to be admired by others.
  2. Flattery is the expression of admiration.
  3. Having been flattered, and so having achieved said admiration, one becomes sated, as a hungry man does after a full meal.
  4. Having become sated, one ceases to try, and hence becomes passive and possibly indolent.
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    Excellent response Robusto. – Merrick Smith Jan 20 '13 at 2:07
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It says, if people tell you that you are awesome then you'll have less reason to do attempt anything worthwhile.

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  • Yes, I got a better understanding of it thanks. People such as myself, often goes passive and lose intuition when they put to much admiration into their focuses. Sorta like gaining nothing from nothing I guess. – Merrick Smith Jan 20 '13 at 2:59
  • As Robusto points out, this quote appears to apply to people who live to be admired by others. People who don't care all that much about what others think of them can't be thus affected. Those who live to satisfy themselves by seeing that what they do is actually worth doing and beneficial to others besides themselves don't revel in flattery. If flattery makes you cringe with embarrassment instead of smile with vainglory, then you will be generally immune to the diseases of passivity, indolence, and hubris. – user21497 Jan 20 '13 at 3:25
  • @BillFranke I haven't read the book, but it seems to me that it is a attacking flatterers not the flattered. For example, it could be talking about schooling a child, and telling someone not to tell the child that everything they do is good. – Lucas Jan 20 '13 at 3:35
  • @Lucas: You might be right about that. I haven't looked up the book. But young children and those who lack self-confidence and self-esteem are perfect targets for flatterers. You might want to develop your cryptic answer to clearly explain what it means. Your sentence in the above comment is clear and meaningful, but using the clichéd "If someone tells you that you're awesome" is murky. I don't recommend such a cavalier attitude when answering questions about meaning: that merely generates more questions about meaning. :-) – user21497 Jan 20 '13 at 3:41
  • @BillFranke Yeah, I don't usually do it, but I was inspired formality of the other answer. If I was feeling argumentative I could go all post-modern and argue that there is no actual meaning and the best we can do for such questions, as a Q&A community, is collect a diverse set of interpretations. But I haven't got the energy to fight it out. I also reckon you have a point worth making and I don't want to seem like I disagree ;) – Lucas Jan 20 '13 at 3:54

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