In the case of life imitating art, you tend to find meanings of events in life, to liken them to values of adversity in life, and to sublimate them to the divine auguries of purposeful human existence. In fact, this existential approach to the causality of certain human behaviors and characteristics can help you to understand whys and wherefores of the way people are and thus can even disarm all hostility towards strangers without prejudice. Such is the case of Adam Smith, the father of modern idea of Capitalism, author of “The Wealth of Nations” whose such proverbial reputation had piqued me no more than as a boring illustrative curriculum vitae of just another stuffy intellectual with privileged educational and social backgrounds until I read Stuart Kells’s article about the Real Adam Smith whom I might never have known.
Adam Smith, a posthumous son of a successful lawyer and customs official, was a rather melancholic, lonely, but humane thinker who liked to spend time with himself alone but also kept his foot in reality by observing everyday people’s lives and considering them to employ in contextualizing ills of society as a result of ineffective rules of law failing to protect the welfare of subjects. Smith’s brilliance shines on the simple and lucid illustrations of his thinking in common language that the literate and the illiterate could understand. He was a soul of the wit distinguished from his peers and progenitors favoring abstruse expressions of bombastic words pedantic of their academic learning.
Kells enlightens us that this humane trait in Smith can be originated from the traumatic experience of being kidnapped aged four at the home of his Scottish maternal uncle allegedly by a set of vagrants called ‘Tinkers’ or a party of Gypsies, the Wandering Egyptians. Although who the real culprit of this kidnapping is still a mystery to this day, what the event affected the tender mind was all over but the shouting. It was Smith’s first interaction with the world outside the safety of class, the innocence of childhood, and the security of the family. Already fatherless, the very young Smith must have felt powerless, hopeless, and homeless at the hands of his kidnappers. And this melancholy spell cast upon him became his curse and bliss as it made him look into the pains of other people and meditate on the causes and effects thereof by sympathizing with their sorrows and emphasizing with the sorrowful.
The kidnapping incident of Adam Smith read like a piece of sensational news to me, a kind of new awakening, the equivalent of modern-day news that a bestseller writer or a prize-winning writer hails from a poor family without expensive private high education. And it makes you think about what makes a person become who he or she is and appreciate the person’s values that overcome adversity. In this respect, Adam Smith is in league with Charles Dickens, who turned his suffering into works of art. It’s a triumph of the human spirit over the travesty of life. All in all, thanks to Kells’s telltale article about the wondrous event, I have abandoned my prejudice against Smith as a cold, stiff upper lipped economist and warmed to his humane side. Maybe I might even read “The Wealth of Nations” into the bargain.