Quilly walked into my home office late last evening (2 April 2010) to find me, well, morose. Not surprisingly, she wondered what was going on. After all, didn’t I just commit this spritely little punfest to the blogosphere? What (this reflects the type of person she is) did she do wrong?
The answer reflects on something fundamental in my own person. For whatever that may be worth. For I was contemplating what I had, and have, done wrong.
Earlier that evening, I and my colleagues on a work project received a message from the person who is negotiating a contract for our group. Those negotiations have dragged on for months. They are, at last, nearing completion – but in announcing that near-completion, the negotiator took the opportunity to unload on us for our ignorant and arrogant behaviors during this interval. Behaviors that adversely affected the willingness of the negotiator to fight for our preferred version of the contract.
And he was exactly right to do so. I am ashamed.
In case you haven’t heard, people in Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba’s profession can be exceptionally gifted in the areas of their expertise. And exceptionally incompetent in areas outside of it. Including the entire domain of life generally headed “human interactions”.
The trouble is, I think, people who show competence in some domain of life actually come to believe in that competence, and project that belief at full volume. In fact, these days, much of what passes for education in these Untied States actively pushes a person to assert claims of competence whenever remotely possible, all in the name of “self-esteem”. Many churches do the same.
Sorry. I think this is all wrong.
‘Pride’ is counted among the deadly sins in Christianity and Judaism, and, for all I know, in Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, and the Lower Slobbovian Mukluk Credos. It is, I reckon, so counted for a very good reason.
Perhaps you have cured cancer, or engineered a moon landing, or solved the energy crisis, or won somebody’s World Series. Many, perhaps all, of these things do a heap of good for people.
BUT – the minute you act as if you’ve actually done any of these things, you undo, at a stroke, all the good you’ve accomplished. Leaving, in its place, grumbling resentments. Or worse.
From such resentments arise barricades. Guillotines. Guantanamos.
Yes. That means, in my way of thinking, that 9-11, all that led up to it, and all that has followed from it, is the fault of every American. Any of you who have been following my writings over the past few years will recognize that I have been saying this consistently – though I’ve not been moved to spell out the reasons why before, at least not in this way.
Every prideful, arrogant, uppity gesture by Americans, in any situation whatever, justifies the World Trade Center / Pentagon bombings in the eyes of those who have been, and continue to be, on the receiving end of those gestures. Because every such gesture attacks the fundamental humanity of those to whom they are directed. Indeed, each one constitutes a rejection, a denial. Before the cock crows twice …
You might ask Tiger Woods which is playing the greater role in his present life and future prospects right now: the record of his unprecedented accomplishments on the golf course, or the record of his dismissive treatment of family, friends, and the press.
When I hear the various pundits, proselytizers, and profiteers telling people how good they are, I cringe. Because, to borrow a phrase from Frank Herbert’s Dune, it offends my sense of rightness.
I do not feel “good”. Quite the opposite. How I feel is that, at the foundation of my being, through and through from top to bottom …
It takes all my energy, each and every day, to conduct myself in a manner that does not suck, knowing full well that the moment I let down my guard – hell, at some moments despite not letting down my guard – I will do something utterly sucky.
And that something will undo, at a stroke, any and all good I might have been able to accomplish. I will have to start all over again, from zero.
I have no justification for pride. None. Ever. Anything I do well could have been done better yet (that we are not teaching this essential fact to our young people, a fact on which any business that wishes to survive in the current economic climate will insist, is, I think, a crime against humanity). And a misplaced word can trash everything.
Evangelical experiences offer a relief from this cycle, by encouraging you to hand off guilt, and even responsibility, over your sucky moments to some more or less tangible higher authority.
They terrify me.
Precisely because they do work – for awhile. The Nuremberg Rallies of the 1930s were evangelical experiences. Historians can tell you, at great length, what happened to the persons who promoted them, and to the nation that absorbed them. The one who surrenders the captaincy of the rowboat of his own faults could wind up an ecstatic cabin boy on an ocean liner that is careening onto a reef.
I think that truly successful people are successful because they are aware, not of the good of which they’re capable, but of the bad. People who have, despite that awareness, the strength to carry on regardless, to accept the periodic returns to ground zero and, whenever necessary, rebuild. People who have, because of that awareness, the wisdom to conduct themselves, in the good times, with humility and without self-promotion or self-aggrandizement.
A nation of people who conduct themselves in such a manner would probably have fewer chest-bumping exhibitions at basketball games. And less need for rings of security personnel at courtside during those games.
A nation of people who conduct themselves in such a manner would probably have many fewer billionaires. And many fewer citizens with no reliable access to health care.
A nation of people who conduct themselves in such a manner might still have a World Trade Center.