Part 7 of a series of posts reflecting on the Vice and Virtue series of sermons at UUCF.
Lust and innocence. Gluttony and temperance. Greed and charity. Sloth and diligence. Wrath and patience. Envy and kindness. Six vices with their six virtues down. One set to go. Whew. I’ve reverted to some rather slothful ways, given the last of the Vice and Virtue sermons, Pride and Humility, was given mid-May. Perhaps I’m just wearing out on systematically exploring more of my shortcomings. I do so much of that without a prompt, although reflecting on this series has guided that self-exploration.
“Pride is the mask of one’s own faults.” This Jewish proverb began Rev. Alex Riegel’s sermon on pride and humility. Using a mix of audience participation and teachings sprinkled with musings, Alex explored pride, individuality, and the separation from the divine that comes along with those. He discusses healthy pride, which is pride in things one does well. (I think it’s a fairly slippery slope from healthy pride to malignant pride, but I can appreciate his distinction.)
Pride is the mask of one’s own faults. I like that. So often,that in which I pridefully delight are the traits of mine that are most tenuous or underdeveloped. I’ll hear a friend relate a frustration with a child and leap in with advice. How is this pride? It’s a way to look confident and sure of this messy business we call parenting that’s fraught with complications. But how easy it is to lean back and say what someone else should do. How reassuring to me, in all my parental insecurity, it is to confidently reassure another.
That action smacks of egotism, I know. And as the words slip out of my mouth, I cringe. After all, I’ve hardly mastered parenting. My kids hardly behave ideally in every situation. We have as many hiccups as most in our day-to-day lives, often it feels like more. I’d love to say my behavior as a parent was beyond reproach, but I have my ugly moments far too often. I can yell, rant, and altogether behave in ways that would make Dr. Sears, Martha Sears, Elizabeth Pantley and a host of other connected parenting folks gasp in collective alarm. I wasn’t raised by ranters and yellers. Far from it. I was actually, if my parents are to be believed, easy to parent. I was eager to please, risk-averse, and altogether quite different from my boys. Yeah, I was mouthy (and I still am), but that’s sometimes an asset. Really.
Anyway, I don’t want to end up yelling. I’m hardly PROUD of my irrational rants. Over 90% of the time, I can manage to pull out my good parenting skills (thanks to Sears, Pantley, good friends, and decent instincts) and parent knowing with healthy pride that I’m doing okay. I’m respecting their personhood while maintaining authority. Most of the other 10% of the time consists of a few “do it because I told you to” choruses alternating with verses about loss of computer privileges and the woes of poor planning/lying/food in one’s bedroom in a house that has ants.
Awareness it the key. Awareness that in those areas where we feel most unsure are the same areas where we may find pride enter in. Not false pride — just pride in what we have managed, sometimes with a struggle and always with massive imperfection. Not healthy pride, which generally just causes us to smile in the mirror occasionally. Pride as vice. The kind of pride that messes with our relationships with others. After all, most of our friendships, if healthy, are built on compassion, common interests, and respect all with a fair amount of reciprocity. Pulling out the, “This works for me and will undoubtedly work for you no matter how different you and your children are from me and my children” card puts a monkey wrench in that mix.
With pride, you think you’re it. The cat’s pajamas and meow all rolled into one fantastic package. That’s a quite a trip down that slippery slope from healthy pride, where you recognize a strength but know you don’t have the market cornered on that strength. In healthy pride, humility keeps that pride from being a vice. It also keeps one from being a pain in the butt. And when talking with a friend, humility is what makes one lead a piece of advice or anecdote with something similar to, “Well this worked for me, at least this time it did.”
Humility keeps one grounded. Knowing you don’t know it all, that you don’t have all the answers, even about those fields that are your domain. Twenty years ago — heck, even 10 years ago, I spoke and thought in more absolutes. I confused my opinion or experience with ultimate truth. As the decades have passed, I’m increasingly aware of how much I don’t know. I’m also increasingly able to admit that there is much I don’t know. Much of the humility I’ve developed is thanks to my kids. First, they know a bunch of stuff I don’t. One can read the sky with uncanny accuracy. The other can ID swords and ancient weaponry with disturbing precision. I can’t do either, but they’ve taught me a ton. Second, they ask a bunch about things I don’t know. In fact, “I don’t know,” may be my most often voiced phrase. (No danger of pride in humility, here. I really don’t like not knowing or being wrong, and my mouth tends to get me into pickles regularly.)
And that bit about pride causing separation from the divine? I’m still foggy on what exactly I see as the divine, but whether it is the whole-bigger-than the parts community,the energy of the workings of the universe, or something else entirely, making this part tricky for me. Pride certainly separate us from each other. Pride is inwardly focused, leaving no room to look beyond the self. Feeling sufficient in the self (something we’re encouraged to do in this society) lessens the sense of self as a part of a greater whole. Call that whole Life, call it God, call it community — pride leads us to look in rather than out. That view won’t lead to connection and interdependency. With a healthy dose of humility, we see how we need each other, see how bigger community is than the sum of its parts.
So back to the key of awareness. Simply being aware of times where pride separates us from others is a step toward better relations with others. Being aware that we’ve not evolved to be self-sufficient islands leads us to better relations to our better selves. Being aware of all our vices can lead to greater virtue and better relationships, human and divine, especially as we cultivate the virtues. Innocence, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, and kindness. All with a good dose of humility.