Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Before the Fall....

"What is like a smelly fart,
that, although invisible is obvious?
One's own faults, that are precisely
As obvious as the effort made to hide them."

The Dalai Lama in "Songs of Spiritual Change"

Someone asked me, a relatively new reader, why I find awards, tags, etc., offensive to me or to my practice.

It is because they pander to pride. Of course the awards and such on blogs are penny ante and certainly not significant in and of themselves. However, if you peel back another layer, it becomes apparent that they pander to pride.

Pride is, by nature, separating ourselves from others and perceiving ourselves as somehow "better".

It provides a peak experience where it is as though the proud are on a high mountain, looking down at everyone else. As the Tibetans say though, it's cold at the top of that mountain, it is hard and nothing grows. We are the best and everyone else is inferior. Pride is associated with self-absorption and measuring our value by comparing ourselves to others. It encourages us to act competitively and then we become disrespectful. At some point, we become addicted to that peak experience and want more, more, more of the feeling it brings us. Without even realizing it, it does make us suffer.

When someone perceives him- or herself as a "loser", self-regard is diminished and become absorbed in self-criticism. It undermines our faith in ourselves. So excess - both in terms of exaggeration and devaluation - are equally destructive.

As long as we think and feel that way, we can never develop true concern for others and we can't develop true compassion.

I've struggled with this and I'm sure plenty of others do, too. In this culture, people have been brainwashed to believe that pride is a Good Thing because it will make us strive for more. (Italics are deliberate. Think about what that means for a minute.) Kind of like an alcoholic who can't stop drinking, we become intoxicated by our own inflated sense of ourselves. We then require more - more stuff, more adulation, more praise, more stuff, more adulation, more praise, more validation.

In the past, I've talked about my own background enough that most of the people who read here will see how easy it was for me to become addicted to pride. I wanted so much to feel worthy that I bought into it. And it was intoxicating. When I was writing a column for a newspaper that was read by thousands of people or when I was doing my weekly radio show, I was in the clouds! All that attention! All that praise! I got calls for interviews by NPR and often spoke at public events. The highs were incredible.. and I sought it out the same way I sought out booze. I wanted more, more, more. And then more was never enough.

It was a sick and tormented way to live. My comfort depended on all that external validation. My sense of worth depended on it.

The blog awards are such a microcosmic example that it would be easy to dismiss it - but just as everything eventually becomes something else - stream to lake to river to ocean - they can also be used as a tool to make someone "better" and someone else, by default, "less".

It's subtle. But it's there. Pride.

As Gary Zukav said, "An authentically empowered person is humble. This does not mean the false humility of one who stoops to be with those who are below him or her. It is the inclusiveness of one who responds to the beauty of each soul. ... It is the harmlessness of one who treasures, honors and reveres life in all its forms."

That's what I prefer to promote here.. because it is positive and powerful. It is kinder. It is life- affirming instead of life-depleting.

I hope that answers the question about awards.



Defiantmuse said...

ahhh. you said it all so well. your last couple of posts have inspired me to write a post of my own about similar thoughts that have plagued me lately. it's so much about letting go of the need for external validation, isn't it? that's becoming clearer to me all the time.

flutter said...

I don't think I agree.

But I respect your choice to have this opinion.

Blog Antagonist said...

This was an awesome post. Like flutter, I'm not sure I'm entirely in agreement, but you stated your opinion so well and I admire that.

I do feel somewhat sheepish when someone gives me an award. Perhaps that is an indication that I agree with you more than I think.

Anonymous said...

I struggle with this one.

I believe in modesty, because of it's inclusiveness. Great quote.

Can you address the value of the individual, though? I often feel hopeless, and question the worth of my own life. Is it as straightforward as one's value stemming from being part of the whole, the "divine?"

thailandchani said...

Defiant, I would be very interested in reading your take on this, too. I'm not even so sure it's possible to entirely give up external validation. In Theravada, as a matter of fact, it's required. I can't state "I am humble" on my own. It has to be said by an elder, someone who knows me (you, him, her) who validates that I've accomplished that.

It's more about finding that validation without it being at someone else's expense.


Flutter, I understand. :) Of course, I enjoy hearing your view, too.


BA, it would be interesting to hear what you have to say on the subject. I think the sheepy feeling is definitely indicative of something - not necessarily agreeing - but ... something. :)


De, see my response to Defiant. That includes the primary point. It's not about losing your identity to the group. It's about learning peaceful ways to exist in the world as an individual. First, do no harm. That's basically it.. but I will do a post on this within the next couple of days. Good question!:)


slouching mom said...

not sure i totally agree, but like BA, i think you presented your points articulately and convincingly.

i don't think it's exclusionary to acknowledge when someone has moved you.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I regard the blog awards as a hand reaching out in friendship. While I agree that no one should put himself above others, I also believe that everyone excels in some way which makes us all special.

Being acknowledged for doing something well doesn't mean that one is "better than" others, just that someone was moved by our words and wanted to present us with a flower.

Giving out awards also forces us to focus on the writing of blogs other than our own to determine what each of them offers: humor, fine writing, spiritual lessons... I find it rather humbling because there are so many people out there who write better than I do, or who think better than I do.

I am honored and delighted to recognize them for their contributions to my life, which they might not otherwise know, but this is never intended as a slight to others.

thailandchani said...

Sarah and Susan, I sent you both email since I had questions. :)


I think one of the things I want to try to make clear in this discussion is that the blog awards are an illustrative example. My real point is that pride has a larger social implication. Encouraging it encourages social disharmony as people become competitive and filled with desires. What I am aiming for is a way of validation that isn't at the expense of anyone else and is private and dignified.

If I send you an email and say "I really get you", "I appreciate what you had to say. It really clarified something" or "I really like what you do", that is between you and me. It is my "thank you" for something you've done that touches me, teaches me or motivates me.

Once it begins to involve others, it then becomes political and competitive.

Anyone see what I mean?



Julie Pippert said...

I know I don't agree. :)

That's harder for me to say than it seems. (a) I don't want to send hurt or disrespect your way. (b) I do really respect your opinion. (c) Your opinion is formed and frames nicely with many of the principles I was raised with.

I find it a rare thing indeed to come across people who believe stroking ego and pride is a good way to get people to achieve more.

I think it far more common that people TRULY believe (through their actions) that criticism and tearing down is the best motivator...although it really isn't IMO.

Maybe that's old school and the times are a changing.

But when my clump shouldered and defeated husband slouched in the door last night, it wasn't because he's gotten any awards. It's because his boss yelled and threatened and insulted him---that's often SOP instead of constructive criticism and praise and recognition of effort.

TBH, that's how I think of awards---as appreciation, thank yous, recognition, acknowledgment.

I don't think they pander to pride and I don't find most people to be prideful.

In general, if someone seems proud, I often find it is a mask.

Picking up on BA's point, I think that's why many of us feel sheepish: we feel humble and notice the good in others around us---who are we to be culled from the herd? And more, we care about the others, and even more, we do crave and enjoy this positive culling.

I'm sure it's abused and I'm sure even the small things are.

But I believe more that it is intended and received well, as a good thing, and thus keep the baby, but toss the bathwater.

Julie Pippert said...

As a caveat, the way the awards distress me is when they are pandering...pandering to popular or important, as a way to be a part of it. That makes me so, so sad. It's a going along with---and can be harmful to both sides.

I'm going to have to think about how that relates to pride.

Tabba said...

Wow, Chani. Wow. Your post was well thought out and thought-provoking. Even if I don't agree with it and yet I do, if that makes any sense, I love and respect you and your opinion.
How I have missed you.

Amy Y said...

This has been fascinating to read, Chani! I don't have a whole lot to add as I haven't quite thought out the whole blog award thing... I've gotten a couple and was very flattered to have received them.

My personal motto is one of moderation. I think most things can be healthy in moderation and that includes pride. I can see how excessive pride could definitely be detrimental ~ especially in the situation you described with your work. But a small amount of pride leads to a healthy self esteem, which is imperitive (in my opinion) to a healthy emotional well being.

I think it's a lil bit of a stretch to go from the blog awards to excessive pride but I could definitely see how it might lead to a "big head" (for lack of a better term).

Either way, I appreciate your explaining your feelings and loved reading your post!

Angela said...

I understand your point, and even though I don't WANT to agree actually, I know that I do. However, I think I may see this as a problem of sorts.

When I am complimented on anything from my writing to my parenting, I spend much time concerned about how others will interpret this. I worry that they will think I only wrote/parented to be receive the reward.

At work, where I've always been very successful, I've struggled against compliments and felt very uncomfortable with the positive attention I've received. In fact, part of the reason I have resigned has to do with my discomfort over being "good" and "in demand." I just want to blend, if you will.

When I have received blog awards or when I am tagged for a meme, it lights up my day. It does...not because I have won an award, but because someone has extended themselves toward me kindly. I love that. It means so much.

I wish I could take compliments better. I wish I could sit with reward better too. I know that I can't because I've been guilted into thinking I don't deserve those things or that I've some how "forced" them from people.

These are problems.

So, while I do agree with you, Chani, I sure wish I didn't. Because I think that this world is cruel enough, and if someone wants to give an award to someone, I wish that we could all just accept them with happy, open know?

thailandchani said...

Julie, I never take disagreement as disrespect. It helps me to think things through more thoroughly when people disagree with me.

As for your point, I think compliments and encouragement are very important. Criticism should be dished out cold - and always with kindness.

I just question doing it publicly. If I tell you privately that I value what you offer, does that make it any less real?

It will be interesting to hear what you have to say about social politics and pride. I'm trying to mesh them but can't quite find a meeting point. :)


Tabba, it makes complete sense. In some ways, even I disagree with me. That is why I am exploring it.

I'm not setting down any edicts or pronunciations here. It's just my intellectual tossed salad here in print.

I'm really happy to see you back. Hope you are well. I'll check your site.


Thanks, Amy. I can see your points as well. In some ways, I wish I hadn't used the blog awards as an illustrative example for this - because it doesn't really solidify my point - but muddies it. Your point about moderation is a good one, of course. :)


Angela, I can see what you're saying and it is tangentially related. Accepting compliments is hard for a lot of people.

I'd ask you the same thing I asked Julie. Is a private compliment less meaningful than a public one?


Angela said...

Well, that's a really interesting question for me to answer. I have a much easier time accepting a private compliment, of course. But ironically enough, this is because when I am given compliments privately, I am more comfortable feeling proud of myself.

Is it wrong to feel proud of yourself?

thailandchani said...

Angela, I don't want to use a word like "wrong". Personally, I think it is a function of ego and will cause you suffering. But.. as you know.. my perspective is very different than the "norm" here.

What I would do is see what it calls up in you. The next time you feel it, I mean. When you follow the pride, where does it lead you?



Angela said...

Well, I see what you mean. I do. Is it possible, though, that pride can also lead to positive things as well at times? Because I think that sometimes my pride helped me walk away from really bad situations. Like my parents' house, for instance.

But I've also had that experience where I feel caught up in needing someone else's approval...and that is awful. It's a prison. I get that. Yep.

Angela said...

Well, I see what you mean. I do. Is it possible, though, that pride can also lead to positive things as well at times? Because I think that sometimes my pride helped me walk away from really bad situations. Like my parents' house, for instance.

But I've also had that experience where I feel caught up in needing someone else's approval...and that is awful. It's a prison. I get that. Yep.

Maithri said...

Dear Friend,

I totally agree with you, this is why i recently removed awards from my blog... I have no problem with anyone else having awards on their blogs... personally they just distract me from my purpose thats all.

Much love to you, M

Catherine said...

Chani - first, I apologize for my lateness in responding. I'm in CA and have limited internet access/time. I'm here now!

And I agree strongly with your principle. I agree with several of the dissenting commenter's too, and I think the reason why is that we have trouble recognizing true pride and differentiating it from true humility at times. Being able to truly see goodness, to take joy from that goodness, and want to share it with others - all done un-self-consciously - THIS is humility. But it can look, to a less humble person, as pride. And, it is so rare that we are truly at that place - pride does indeed sneak in so frequently.

You have, once again, prompted what I think will become a post on my own blog. I love your blog for that, and I recognize this joyful goodness! If I do write more, I'll link to you and post the link here as well...

Thank you, Friend.