A Cure for the Verdi Virus
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another because ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (I Peter 5:5-6)
Are you aware of the Verdi Virus? A year or so ago, I heard someone mention the Verdi Virus in his sermon. I looked it up; and, sure enough, it exists.
From the life of the operatic composer, Giuseppe Verdi, comes this story: It happened one night when he performed a piano recital at La Scala in Milan, Italy. After his final piece, the appreciative audience demanded an encore. Verdi, hungry for applause, chose a loud and frilly composition he knew would thrill the audience, even though it was, artistically speaking, inferior music.
When he finished, the crowd stood again, roaring its approval. Verdi basked in the extended applause – until he saw his lifelong mentor in the balcony, who knew exactly what Verdi had done. His mentor neither stood with the crowd nor applauded. On his face was a pained expression of disappointment. Verdi could almost hear his mentor saying, “Verdi, Verdi, how could you do that?”
Robert Foster, the founder of Lost Valley Dude Ranch in Sedalia, Colorado (in his newsletter, “The Challenge”) labeled this the Verdi Virus – the need to be approved and applauded. He says, “The ego swells when it is showered with praise. It craves power, success, and status. And it is never satisfied with how much of these things it gets.” Foster tells of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who liked to hike the Swiss Alps and who described his own bout with the virus this way: “Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog named Ego.”
A biblical example of this is when John, in his 3rd Epistle, describes Diotrephes as “one who loves to be first” (1:9). Being in a position of preeminence was not the issue, but loving it was. The Apostle Paul encourages us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Phil. 2:3).
Interestingly, Sandy Shugart, in Leadership in the Crucible of Work, the book our dean gave us to read, refers to “megalomania,” which he calls “a particular form of the sin of hubris,” as a “virus” (36).
So, here’s the swab test:
Have you and I ever performed with prideful, self-centered motives? The truth is that each of us have been symptomatic at times.
Is the Verdi Virus contagious? It seems so. On a surface level, it appears to work. After all, Verdi did receive a lot of applause!
Of course, there’s much that’s right about healthy ambitions. Jordan Peterson, in 12 Rules for Life, reminds us that “the better ambitions have to do with development of character and ability, rather than status and power.” He says, “Status you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity” (224).
The encouraging word is that there are some things we can do to treat the symptoms:
1. Take off your mask. Reveal yourself.
2. Re-evaluate the true source of your worth.
3. Perhaps, talk to someone about unfinished business from your past.
Here’s the ultimate vaccine for overcoming the pitfalls of pride and ego, the Verdi Virus. Listen again to Peter’s prescription:
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another because ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (I Peter 5:5-6).
Dr. Terry L. Lambright, NBC Faculty, Director Christian Counseling and Counseling for Christian Ministries Programs