Flaws in wine? What about flaws in people?


Flaws in wine? What about flaws in people?

As many readers know, my latest book was on wine faults. Titled Flawless, it examines the different wine faults one by one, and tries to put them in context. Ultimately, my goal in writing this book was to have a more nuanced debate on faults in wine, especially because many ‘fault’ compounds can be good in one context and bad in another, and the absence of faults doesn’t make a wine good or interesting.

But what about faults in people? This would make an interesting book. Maybe I have missed a trick here? We are all flawed, in many ways, but we strive to be good humans (well, at least most people do), and to be self-aware about our own flaws, and try to work on them a bit, at the same time realizing that while we’ll never be perfect, this doesn’t stop us being loveable.

So, here’s my take on a few human flaws, in no particular order. And this is by no means a complete list. Can you add any more?


This is at the core of most problems in any human interactions. To use a viticultural metaphor, it’s the trunk disease of the human soul. It’s a particularly corrosive fault, because it eats us up from the inside and diminishes our humanity, if we allow it to take root. The core problem with selfishness is how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us. We behave selfishly because we think we are somehow better than those around us, and more deserving. Our interests come first, and we take more than we are entitled to.

We are probably all born a little selfish, but it’s a trait that we need to shed. Often, having children beats any residual selfishness out of us – at least, if we are good parents – because this forces selflessness on us. We have to give to our children, and the act of caring for them softens our heart (and tires us out), and we learn that it is truly better to give than to receive, and that we are not the centre of the universe. I think it’s the daily discipline of putting others’ interests first and saying no to selfishness that is the path to happiness. Allowing selfishness to take root in us and grow is certainly a path to great unhappiness and an inner deadness that will eventually consume us.

Jealousy is really really bad, and we must do all we can to avoid it. The moment we get a jealous thought, we need to kill it. Because, just as selfishness does so effectively, jealousy will eat us up, and do grave damage both to our state of mind and our close relationships.

This is the truth: you have been dealt a hand of cards, by your genetics, the date and place you were born, and the family environment you were born into. Some people get dealt a much nicer hand than others, and there’s nothing you can do to change this. But you must remember two things: you are not defined by those cards, and you can do a lot to change your fate and destiny – it is not fixed. There will always be people smarter than you and people richer than you and people more beautiful than you, and modern communication reminds you of this all the time. [In the past you could have been the smartest or prettiest in your village, but now everyone is comparing themselves on a global scale. It’s not very helpful.] But remember, also, that our society over-values certain traits, such a youth, success and a certain notion of attractiveness, and this is quite unhealthy. You need to remember that you are unique, and special, and that everyone is of equal value, no matter what society says. I think there are two antidotes to jealousy. The first is gratitude: being thankful for what we have. The second is to stop all these harmful comparisons with others. We need to celebrate our uniqueness. And when it comes to jealousy in romantic relationships, this has to be knocked on the head. Trust your partner. If they aren’t trustworthy, then leave them. [If you can; I know it’s not always possible.] But don’t be hyper-vigilant of their relationships and friendships with others, especially on social media. This can never end well.

Some people are generous. Other people are quite mean. And the amazing thing is that often people who are mean aren’t aware of it. Try being generous: it’s a much nicer way to live. It starts a flow: the more you give, the more resources you seem to have. That’s been my experience. Meanness often stems from a mindset of not having enough – a false idea that resources are somehow limited. It’s a mindset that seems to affect decision making more generally, and people who live in meanness are generally poor in business, and end up having loveless relationships. Their hearts are cold. Don’t be mean. Live generously. Give creatively. We can be prudent with our money and manage our finances well, but we must beware straying into meanness.

Do you find yourself judging other people? Are you very critical? Well, you should stop, of course, but there is something useful you can learn from dissecting your judgemental thoughts. Judge others gently, with lots of grace, because ultimately we would like to be judged gently in return. In truth, you cannot hope to know the internal state, motivations, or intentions of others, so you should refrain from being too critical of them. They might be under extreme pressure, or have had a brutal childhood, or just have had a very bad day. And don’t be one of those hate-filled people who join in Twitter mobs, attacking other people. It’s not very nice. What can we learn from our judgmental tendencies? Well, often, we are hardest on traits in others that we struggle with ourselves. Our judgemental thoughts are like a mirror: when you punish something in other people, are you subconsciously punishing yourself? It’s not always the case, but it often is.

We can’t be bright, optimistic and naively cheerful all the time. Satire is a very valuable form of comedy, for example. And it’s appropriate to be questioning and wordly wise. But there are some people who are bitterly cynical, and it gets a bit toxic after a while. Cynicism is a form of negativity, and like salt and pepper on your food, it’s good in small doses but spoils everything if you apply too much. Don’t let negativity and cynicism become your default position. Try to see the best in situations, and in other people. Think the best of others until you are proved wrong.

Entitlement is ugly, but feeling entitled can be an easy trap to fall into, especially if you are successful, or wealthy, or highly educated, or beautiful. You can begin to believe that you are special, and that you deserve more than others. More respect, more money, more resources. Entitled people think that other people are there to serve them. They think that queues are for losers. They expect the red carpet treatment. They think that the rules don’t apply to them. It’s not nice.

I guess greed is related to entitlement and selfishness. It’s the practical manifestation of these flaws, and the cause of many of the problems in the world today. Let’s slice the cake more evenly.

So many of these faults occur together, don’t they? A bit like wine faults. Narcissism is self-obsession, where we see ourselves as being at the centre of the universe, and where we find it very difficult to see things from the perspective of those around us – or even to care terribly much about the lives of others. Narcissistic people are often grandiose and entitled, and they aren’t all that nice to be around. The best way to deal with them is just to stroke their egos and keep them happy. Then everything is fine. If you are narcissistic, you probably don’t realize it, because as soon as people realize it they usually do something to stop it.

Egotism shares much in common with narcissism. Egotistical people see and feel everything as it relates to them. Many media people often have large egos because they are used to hearing others tell them how good they are. Egotistical people deal very badly with ageing because they can’t bear to think of a world without them. They fail to see that the world was doing fine before they were born, that they are here for a brief time, and that it doesn’t end well for any of us. We all age, and this is a normal part of life. And death is a normal part of life. We have to recognize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we live our life in seasons, that we take the baton and then pass it on to the next generation, and then we leave the stage. Watch the Lion King, egomaniacs: it’s the circle of life. Watching the way celebrities fight the ageing process by surgery and punishing exercise routines is a great display of the futility and ugliness of egotism. Egotistical people also hate challenges, and if you cross them (or they are under the impression that they have been crossed), they can be very vindictive. They need lots of stroking and badges of success to make them tolerable to be around.

Do you have a time machine? No. No one does. So stop dwelling in regret: it will freeze you and stop you moving forwards. The only regret that is allowed is the temporary state of regretting an action that then leads to positive change. Once an action is done, it can’t be undone, although it is possible to strive to ensure a regrettable action is not repeated. Many people, though, make their emotional home in regret and it becomes a prison from which it is hard to escape. If you are filled with regret, the antidote is to re-cast your narrative using the foundational truth that nothing is wasted. All the experiences you have had, good and bad, have helped forge the you of today. There’s a lovely Japanese term – kintsugi – referring to the way a pot is repaired with gold leaf. The broken pot is a work of art, and is very beautiful. Life is difficult and we have all faced challenges, and we will face many more in the future. We are like the broken pot: if we allow the troubles and pain to be redeemed by processing them in a healthy way, then we can be repaired – and as people we will ne richer and more beautiful than before.


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