Are You Being Vulnerable, Or Simply Transparent?

 "The Buffoon" from  The Brothers Karamazov  (1949 Illustrated and Unabridged edition)

"The Buffoon" from The Brothers Karamazov (1949 Illustrated and Unabridged edition)

Throughout the past year I’ve thought pretty regularly about the difference between being transparent and being vulnerable, and about what each represents about our worldview. What I keep coming back to is that the former is the act of being open, the more so “unfiltered” ethos, whereas the latter rests in being honest with one’s self, despite what that might elicit from others.

Well, this all came back to the front of my mind yesterday while I read a passage from The Brothers Karamazov. This excerpt is about the sinfully embarrassing father of  three, Fyodor Pavlovitch, meeting the story’s strongest Christ-figure, Father Zosima. As Fyodor’s party was arriving at the monastery, for the first in the novel, Fyodor seems to finally be recognizing social cues, and is depicted as silently and reverently awaiting Zosima’s company. However, once the monastic father comes, in an attempt to “be seen” as humble, Fyodor’s transparency gets the better of him.

Shortly after being called a liar, the depraved Fyodor - in all his pride - put on the mask of transparency, and spoke,

Yes; that’s true. I’m not a king, and, would you believe it, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, I was aware of that myself. But, there! I always say the wrong thing. Your reverence,’ he cried, with sudden pathos, ‘you behold before you a buffoon in earnest! I introduce myself as such. It’s an old habit, alas! And if I sometimes talk nonsense out of place it’s with an object, with the object of amusing people and making myself agreeable. One must be agreeable, mustn’t one?
— Fyodor Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov)

And then soon after being scrutinized for a tasteless joke, and being informed of how he’s socially hurting himself, Dostoevsky carries on by further painting the scene.

Am I? Would you believe it, I was aware of that, too, …and let me tell you, indeed, I foresaw I should as soon as I began to speak. And do you know I foresaw, too, that you’d be the first to remark on it. The minute I see my joke isn’t coming off, your reverence, both my cheeks feel as though they were drawn down to the lower jaw and there is almost a spasm in them. That’s been so since I was young, when I had to make jokes for my living in noblemen’s families. I am an inveterate buffoon, and have been from birth up, your reverence, it’s as though it were a craze in me. I dare say it’s a devil within me. But only a little one. A more serious one would have chosen another lodging. But I do believe— I believe in God, though I have had doubts of late. But now I sit and await words of wisdom. I’m like the philosopher, Diderot , your reverence. Did you ever hear, most Holy Father, how Diderot went to see the Metropolitan Platon, in the time of the Empress Catherine? He went in and said straight out, “There is no God.” To which the great bishop lifted up his finger and answered, “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” And he fell down at his feet on the spot. “I believe,’ he cried, ‘and will be christened.” And so he was. Princess Dashkov was his godmother, and Potyomkin his godfather.”

”Fyodor Pavlovitch, this is unbearable! You know you’re telling lies and that that stupid anecdote isn’t true. Why are you playing the fool?” cried Miüsov in a shaking voice.

“I suspected all my life that it wasn’t true,” Fyodor Pavlovitch cried with conviction. “But I’ll tell you the whole truth, gentlemen. Great elder! Forgive me, the last thing about Diderot’s christening I made up just now. I never thought of it before. I made it up to add piquancy. I play the fool… to make myself agreeable. Though I really don’t know myself, sometimes, what I do it for.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov)

To fully grasp the convicting level of verbal vomiting that Fyodor Pavlovitvh commits here, imagine yourself in the presence of someone that might intimidate you, or that you want (or “need”) to impress. What do you do? How do you want to be seen? How do you show up?


DOSTOEVSKY, FYODOR (2013-09-01). THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (illustrated, complete, and unabridged) (p. 41-43). Dostoevsky Classic Fiction: The Brothers Karamazov. Kindle Edition.