Sometimes I feel like an 80-year-old grandma, and not just because I’m a first-time mother at the ripe old age of 44 getting a shockingly pitiful amount of sleep.
I read the news, I scroll through posts and comments and tweets, and I think — what in the world has happened to my country?
All we seem to do is fight and argue and insult, and then watch people on TV fight and argue and insult.
If I close my eyes I can see a mental picture of my soul these days — sitting on the porch-swing, sipping lemonade and trying mightily to have just one quiet evening at home — when a big pack of kids come along and start fighting on the sidewalk in front of my lawn. I try to ignore them for awhile, but finally I have enough and shout out one of the most tired of cliches while shaking my cane— can’t we all just get along!
I can feel my hair turning grayer even as I type, but I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
In my opinion, we have a serious pride problem in our culture. Each and every one of us wants to be right, is sure we’re right — which means we’re sure you’re wrong — and if we’re the least bit uncertain about our position, well, often we just scream louder to cover our own doubts.
No one, least of all me, would try to say we don’t have serious problems, injustices, hurt and pain in our culture right now, but hollering isn’t getting us anywhere.
We have plenty of people willing to keep trying that method— screaming at each other using every available technology — but very few who are willing to practice the humility of peacemaking, which I’ve seen described as “reconciliation and restoration through creative transformation of conflict.”
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
― Ernest Hemingway
I think humility is the key. With a little humility you can live at peace with someone you vehemently disagree with, simply because you’re very familiar with what a piece of crap you can be sometimes.
You don’t need to put anyone down to feel better about yourself. You don’t have to prove them wrong to prove yourself right. You don’t even have to be right all the time — what a concept! You can just be.
I come to you as someone who has Mt. Everest-sized pride. It’s sickening, really. What’s worse, though, is that it’s been demolished, crushed, and pulverized time and time again — and yet it continues to grow back like weeds. Or maybe like the liquid bad guy in the Terminator movies, the one you can throw a nuclear weapon at, but given enough time, his liquid will reconstitute and he’ll be coming after you yet again.
The good thing, though, is that every time my pride gets nuked it grows back a centimeter smaller. I live in the hope that by the time I die my pride will be the size of an anthill.
It is in that spirit that I offer my top three sure-fire ways to crush your pride. They’re not easy, but through each one I learned a bit more humility and discovered the ability to live at peace with people of greatly different cultures and belief systems.
1. Immerse yourself in another culture.
I’ve lived in five different countries besides my own, and my previous job was working closely with colleagues from about twenty different cultures. Living and working among them was a continuous course in humility.
If you have any pride in being an American, try spending a couple years working closely with people whose countries America has invaded a few times. We’ve openly admitted to toppling past regimes of countries a couple of my closest friends call home.
Over and over again I had to swallow my pride and listen, not defending myself or my country. I learned it wasn’t even worth it most times to try to correct impressions they had that I knew for a fact were wrong. It wouldn’t change their overall opinion and it would harm our relationship.
It was hard, I won’t lie. It burned sometimes and I chaffed. But by not acting as they expected me to, I lived out a different model than they were used to and, I think, in the end I changed some opinions.
I also had the opportunity to learn a lot about the different cultures I was exposed to and learned to love people very different from myself. And I am better for it.
You don’t have to leave the country to have this kind of experience. Look across the street at the person you disagree with. Take a drive to a part of town you don’t normally visit.
There are unfamiliar cultures all around you that you could learn from.
2. Learn a new language.
When I was newly learning Spanish, a month into moving to Spain, I was having a difficult conversation with a three-year-old. After a few minutes where I thought I was holding my own, she looked at me with a chilling degree of condescension and said, “I told you that already.”
Someone told me one time that running up hills builds character. I responded, “I have enough character, thank you very much!”
Learning a language is like running an endless set of hills where just when you think you’re coming to the top you break through a cloud and see you still have 200 peaks to climb.
It is pride-stomping, soul-sucking, lifejuice-expending, and generally just downright crushing. It is wonderful for the pride.
If you’re having trouble finding compassion for someone whose belief system is different than yours, may I suggest you go down to the local community college and sign up for a language course?
I’ve studied Spanish and Turkish alongside students from many different countries, some of whom view America as the Great Satan etc., etc.. But we struggled together and we laughed together, and eventually we learned to respect each other through our shared difficulties.
3. Do something you suck at regularly.
I’ve done many things I suck at over the years, and most of them have been good for me. A few years ago I became briefly obsessed with the Great British Bake-Off and decided to try making a very involved cake for my father’s birthday, complete with melted chocolate work.
When I took a picture into my Turkish language class the next week and showed it around, my teacher asked, “weren’t you embarrassed to serve this?”
Umm, no, no I wasn’t. It was the first time I tried something like that, and although it was a world-class failure, at least I attempted something new and got a few laughs out of it.
My latest effort at regularly sucking is in motherhood, and I am in fact such a late entrant that more people ask me if my daughter is my granddaughter than the other way around. Of course that could just be Turkish culture.
Motherhood is the MOAPB (mother of all pride busters) as far as I’m concerned. Yesterday I got teary because I couldn’t figure out how to get my daughter to sleep now that she pops right up and cries every time we lay her down.
I’m 44 and my daughter’s naptime made me teary — that is humiliating to admit. Therefore, good for me. I expect great successes in pride-shrinkage as she continues to baffle me for a few years before she begins the long season of humiliating me on purpose.
The point of all of these ideas is to deliberately place yourself inside a safe-environment humiliation opportunity. It’s good for us to fall on our faces. It’s good for us to try something and fail. Not just to build character, but to build compassion. To think less highly of ourselves so we can think more highly of others.
Pride is a killer, and I honestly believe it’s one of the things that’s killing us as a culture.
A Humiliating Example of Peacemaking
A few years ago I was sitting at breakfast trying to pry my eyes open with some Nescafe, halfway through a week of meetings, when I heard some colleagues at another table talking about various visa issues they’d had with the United States. They were complaining about the cost, the time, the bureaucracy.
One of my colleagues and friends was the ringleader of the morning. She was frustrated because the cheapest way to get from Asia to Central America is through the US. She didn’t even want to stay in the US, she just wanted to transit through it, but she had to go through the whole rigamarole to get a transit visa. In the end she spent several hundred dollars and quite a bit of frustration, only to have her application denied and have to purchase a ticket that was twice as expensive.
I could have argued with her about how complicated and inflammatory the immigration issue is for Americans. I could have devalued her concerns and pain. I could have just ignored the whole situation — which is the one I wanted to choose — and let her pain simmer and grow. But instead I chose to try to diffuse the situation and make some degree of advancement toward peace.
I got up from my table, went across to my friend, got down on one knee, took her hand and said, “for myself and in the name of the United States, I’m sorry for the pain our bureaucracy has caused you and I ask your forgiveness.”
It was a little humiliating, to tell the truth. I’m pretty proud of the good ol’ US of A. We’ve done a lot of good in the world, despite all our many faults. I wanted to defend us, talk about the rule of law and the corruption of all their governments. I wanted to shut my eyes to the bad and think on the good — I knew how much money we were giving to her country in aid that year because I’d looked it up.
I certainly didn’t want to do what I did, but I valued our relationship and I believe trying to ease tension and work toward peace is important work. So I took one for the team.
After you’ve taken a couple hard hits to your pride and you’re feeling somewhat less than perfect about yourself, I suggest you take a walk or a drive to the safest, quietest bastion of your “enemy.”
Don’t look for the person who’s yelling or leading a protest — look for the one standing at the back of the crowd looking as sick as you feel about the whole thing, and invite them for coffee.
Take a couple hours and ask a few open-ended questions. Don’t defend yourself, don’t try to argue their point, just listen. Learn. See that they, too, are human beings just trying to do their best. That they are operating out of pain just as you are.
We don’t need more pride, we’ve got plenty of that. What we need is more peacemakers humble enough to say, “I’m sorry this happened to you. I know I personally had nothing to do with it, but this was done by people in a group I belong to, and I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”