“There Is in This World No Function More Important Than That of Being Charming.”

“There is in this world no function more important than that of being charming. The forest glade would be incomplete without the humming-bird. To shed joy around, to radiate happiness, to cast light upon dark days, to be the golden thread of our destiny, and the very spirit of grace and harmony, is not this to render a service?”

— Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea

A thoughtful reader sent me this quotation. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines, from G. K. Chesterton, which I quote several times in The Happiness Project“It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.”

Though I must say, it seems to be slightly overstating the case to say that there’s no function more important than being charming. I think I can think of a couple of functions that are more important.

Agree, disagree?

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  • Mimi Gregor

    Honesty. I’ve known many very charming liars. I much prefer an honest but slightly boring person. I’m charming enough for the both of us. 😉

  • Natalie

    If I was able to increase one of my stats (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, charisma) it would be charisma. Intelligence is more important to me, but I already have a sufficiency of that! Charisma is the thing I’d most like to have that I don’t have enough of.

  • Phillip Long

    A classic feature of a psychopath is his/her ability to be absolutely charming (while callously disregarding the rights of others). So don’t be misled by charming people.

    Abraham Lincoln had a better definition of happiness. He said: “in order to feel good, you have to do good.”

    The Dalai Lama XIV took it a step farther and said to achieve happiness, one must show compassion. He defined compassion as: “the wish to see others free from suffering.”

    Buddha taught that it is selfish to seek personal happiness while turning your back on the suffering of others. Buddha said: “Some people suffer too much, and other people suffer too little.”

    So forget “charming”. I believe there is in this world no function more important than that of being compassionate.

  • ChrisD

    Yes at first I was unsure, but the second part is the meat of the idea.
    “To shed joy around, to radiate happiness, to cast light upon dark days, to be the golden thread of our destiny, and the very spirit of grace and harmony, is not this to render a service?”
    “being the spirit of grace and harmony”, I think there is an unspoken ‘under provocation’ there. That and casting light on dark days is related to compassion.

  • Beth Boman

    Hmm, I do think I associate “charming” with some cheesy/sleazy charm, from, for sure, liars. I think genuine charm from a place of compassion and kindness is amazing, I think charm from a place of narcissism and self-promotion is an deplorable. I once had someone trying so hard to come across as adorable at a dinner party, and when he pretended to cry when I was leaving (not jokingly, although we’d only been introduced that night), I asked if he knew my name. Nope, didn’t. But wanted to be charming.

  • Gillian

    The first part of the quote is indeed overstated, as others have noted. However, as ChrisD observed below, the second part is the meat of the idea. In “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert has a few passages on a similar theme. One of them is:

    “All the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people. The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.”

    While not the most important function we can perform, spreading a little light and joy, IF done sincerely, is indeed a contribution.

  • I agree with the other commenters that “charming” seems overboard. I wonder if the original French means something more like “aliveness”. Because if what Hugo meant was that your only job is to do the thing that makes you come alive, then this quote makes sense to me.

  • I can probably think of quite a few.
    “Charming” is pretty low on my personal list.