Do you feel that perhaps you have not accomplished as much in life as you might have ? Or do you perhaps feel a little under-appreciated ? Fear not, help is on the way.
Today’s mail brings a proposition from a religious organization that offers to list me in its forthcoming journal as a man of high accomplishment, one deserving great honor and recognition. Just how much of these, however, depends on how much I am willing to pay. Here are the choices:
“Hero” $ 500
“Shepherd” $ 300
Can there be anyone who values the important things in life who would resist such an offer ? Hint: “Hero” seems the best buy, giving a lot for very little.
Just a few months before I arrived at the University of British Columbia, Queen Elizabeth visited there and signed the guest book. She was of course known as “Her Majesty” to one and all. But what title did she use in the guest book ? Perhaps “My Majesty,” thus imitating the pomposity of certain “Doctors” of our day ? No. She signed the book simply “Elizabeth R.” True, the “R” alludes to her royal status, but, overall, I think that her signature can serve as a model of modesty for us all.
Elizabeth R. at UBC, 1959
Similarly, some ten years before this royal visit, I had occasion to write to Albert Einstein to comment on a political statement he had made. A few days later I received a courteous reply that assured me that he and I agreed on the matter after all. And he signed his note “A. Einstein.” He did not find it necessary to remind me of his doctorate, or of his Nobel prize.
Others are less modest. A certain Freiherr zu Guttenberg, German defense minister until he was forced to resign in disgrace last year, felt constrained to call himself “Doctor” despite the fact that his dissertation turned out to be fraudulent. And, similarly, there is the very sad case of Martin Luther King, Jr., who is still often referred to as “Dr. King,” despite the fact that his dissertation, too, has been shown to be largely fraudulent.
Outright fraud aside, there is something unseemly in calling yourself “Doctor” in contexts that have nothing to do with the subject matter of your studies.
I have just written a longish piece that explores the folly of such pomposities. You will find it here, on my website.