Thursday, February 26, 2015

Proud and Humble -- Kanye tell the difference?

Lately Richard and I have noticed a common theme in news accounts of people receiving awards or accolades:  namely, the tendency of award recipients to express how "humbled" they are by the award or recognition they've received.

Both of us have wondered, "Why don't they just say they're proud?  That's what they really mean, isn't it?"

Isn't it?

If I'm a teacher, let's say, and I receive an award for teaching excellence, it would seem to make perfect sense for me to feel proud of myself.  I've received recognition that not everyone gets.  I've been singled out as special, perhaps even superior.   Pride appears to be an appropriate response.

But ... no one wants to appear proud.  After all, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, isn't it?

Googling "define proud" leads to two definitions:

1.  feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one's own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated.

2. having or showing a high or excessively high opinion of oneself or one's importance.

The first of the two doesn't sound so bad -- most of us wouldn't hesitate to say "I'm so pleased" when we receive acclaim --  but nobody wants to be accused of the second.  So I might conclude that I'd better not say "Thank you for this teaching award!  I feel so proud!" and risk being seen as having "an excessively high opinion" of myself.  Maybe some of my peers don't think I deserved the award, so if they hear me expressing pride at having won it, they'll think that I see myself as better than I truly am.

The Bible has a comment on that very problem, here in Galatians 6:3-4 (a passage I alluded to in a different context for a previous blog post):

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.  Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.  (New International Version)

Heaven forbid that we should deceive ourselves by "thinking we're something when we're not," right?  We watch a celebrity like Kanye West strutting onstage at awards ceremonies to pontificate about who he thinks the truly deserving are, and we cringe at his oversized ego; we don't want to be like that, do we?

(At right, see Kanye telling award recipient Taylor Swift why Beyonce should in fact have won Swift's prize.  And observe Swift's totally bewildered expression.)

Notice, though, what the Galatians passage says in the sentences immediately following:  we should "test our own actions" and then we can "take pride in ourselves alone, without comparing ourselves to someone else."

How interesting:  pride is seen as something that's perfectly acceptable, even good, to feel, but in the proper context -- and that context has nothing to do with comparing ourselves to others.  Yet all the examples Richard and I noticed had to do with people receiving awards, which are inherently a form of comparison:  there's no significance in a Teaching Award or a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer if everyone gets it.  It's only meaningful if one person receives it and is therefore held up as better than the other nominees (and way better than the masses who weren't even nominated).

Where, then, does this leave those people who are "humbled" by the awards they've received?  After pondering it for a while, I actually think that their response is perfect.  In most cases, I assume, they're reluctant to express pride in a situation where they're being compared with other people.  They realize there are many other deserving recipients; they're grateful for, yet a little surprised by, the honour; and -- to their credit -- they want to keep a level head and not become Kanye-ized.

I still wonder about the Galatians reference to "taking pride in ourselves alone, without comparing," though.  I wonder what that pure type of pride would look like in real life.  

Maybe it's a childlike trait:  we've all seen kids eager to show off their dancing or the picture they drew or the race they ran, and they're bursting with a sense of accomplishment that has nothing to do with superiority/inferiority or better/worse.  Is it only in later life that the comparison aspect creeps in, so that instead of "testing our own actions" (keeping our eyes on our own exam paper, as our teacher tells us to do) we focus on how others are doing?  Does that explain why we can end up either showing off in order to feel good about ourselves, or resenting others' achievements because they make us feel bad about ourselves?

I'm not sure -- and I'd certainly welcome your thoughts in the comment section below, because there may be more to this humility/pride question, and I'd love to know what others think.  For now, I think the best approach is threefold:
  1. Try to view my own "achievements, qualities, and possessions" as gifts and enjoy them with gratitude and pleasure.
  2. Try to avoid comparing myself with others, regardless of whether the comparison puts me at an advantage or a disadvantage.
  3. In the face of our celebrity-obsessed society, try to maintain what the Google dictionary -- in its definition of "humble" -- calls "a modest sense of my own importance."


    (By the way, you may be interested to know that this is my blog's 500th post!  I'm not sure whether to be humble or proud about that.  I guess you can call me prumble.)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day - "Let us love one another"

Today I'm linking back to a Valentine's Day post that I wrote two years ago and re-posted again last year.  It still seems apt so I think it's worth repeating.


"Happy Valentine's Day to my family.  Lest you think this is going to be a rose-coloured description of our family's Waltons-esque perfection, I should confess..."  


Monday, February 09, 2015

"Jane Eyre" meets "The Cat in the Hat"

The other day I was reading The Cat in the Hat to Jonathan, and when I read the opening lines,

The sun did not shine, 
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house 
all that cold, cold wet day

they somehow reminded me of the first paragraph of Jane Eyre:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

It was such a funny juxtaposition that I went on to ponder what the result might be if the story of Jane Eyre were written in the poetic style of The Cat in the Hat.  I had a lot of fun with this experiment, and this is what I came up with.  I hope you like it!


The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play.

So Jane sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.

Living with her Aunt Reed was no fun for young Jane

‘Cause her cousins and aunt made their enmity plain.

Jane was their “poor relation”; they treated her badly.

They locked the girl up till she cried and screamed madly.

When released, Jane was angry and called her aunt mean.

Aunt Reed said, “You’re the worst child I ever have seen!”

So she called up the master of a school called Lowood,

And he took young Jane there for (he said) her own good.

She was cold, she was lonely, and so poorly fed;

Then her best friend got sick and ended up dead.

But Jane stayed there at Lowood till she was eighteen,

At which time she desired a complete change of scene.

She applied for a job as a paid governess

And when told that she got it, pumped her fist and said “YES!!”

So she travelled to Thornfield, a gloomy estate,

And arrived in the evening at twenty past eight.

Housekeeper Fairfax received Jane with great cheer

And said, “Adele and I are so happy you’re here!”

Adele was Jane’s student, a flighty young thing

Whom Jane had to teach pretty much everything.

Though the master, Rochester, was nowhere in sight,

Mrs. Fairfax told Jane that he was all right –

Just a little eccentric … and moody … and odd.

(But hey:  who among us is not somewhat flawed?)

He was not Adele’s father – Fairfax made that clear –

He looked after her welfare, though, year after year.

So with patience and firmness and scholarly vigor

Jane taught her young charge, and Adele’s brain got bigger.

Yet boredom set in, and Jane felt distressed.

Work was fine, life was pleasant – but was this the best?

She longed for the freedom of birds in the sky;

She felt passion for life that she could not deny.

Then one evening while walking, she saw a strange man

Riding past her on horseback as fast as one can.

The horse, seeing Jane, bucked sharply and fell;

The man crashed to the ground, shouting out “Bloody hell!”

He accused Jane forthwith of bewitching his steed,

But she stoutly denied having done such a deed.

The man said, “Harrumph,” climbed back on, rode away,

Leaving Jane there to ponder this end to her day.

But when she got home, she was soon made aware

The irascible rider had preceded her there.

The horseman was Rochester – in truth, her boss –

And a man, she had heard, that nobody dared cross.

He invited her in to his study to chat;

He was cranky and harsh, but she didn’t mind that.

She told him her past, which didn’t take long,

And he said that in hiring her, he’d done no wrong,

For Adele was improved; he was pleased with Jane’s work.

Then he told her “Get out!” and she thought, “What a jerk.”

But her feelings soon changed as she talked to him more:

Though he grumbled and growled and occasionally swore,

She sensed his warm heart and his depth of emotion,

And Jane soon felt for him the most fervent devotion.

He often would treat her as his confidante

And being in his presence was all she could want.

She listened and watched and gained Rochester’s trust,

For despite his dark moods, she was never nonplussed.

However, strange laughs now and then emanated

From a tower in the house – then quickly abated.

But Jane was assured that a servant named Grace

Was sometimes too loud as she worked round the place.

This lame explanation did not satisfy,

But Jane was reluctant to poke or to pry.

One night she smelled smoke and she rushed down the stair;

His room was in flames, but he slept, unaware.

She woke him and helped him extinguish the blaze;

He said he’d be indebted to her all his days.

Then Rochester invited some friends for the night

And from Jane’s observation, he seemed to delight

In a certain young woman – Blanche Ingram her name –

And it seemed quite apparent that Blanche felt the same.

Jane was sure they would wed, and if that mournful day

Ever came, she knew she’d be unable to stay.

Then Jane heard from her aunt, who had lost her one son

And now lay on her death-bed demanding Jane come.

Jane went to Aunt Reed, who, despite her sad state,

Still mustered up strength to condemn and berate

Jane, and tell her a rich uncle, living afar,

Had asked for her address.  Jane said, “That’s bizarre!

No relative wrote; I know nothing of this.”

Then her aunt, with a deathly and devilish hiss,

Said she’d withheld the letter out of hatred and spite.

Jane was hurt, and at first thought she very well might

Have just stayed back at Thornfield and not come at all.

But she gazed down and saw that her aunt was in thrall

To a bitter resentment she’d nurtured for years.

Jane kindly forgave her and kissed her, with tears.

She left her aunt’s house and to Thornfield she went,

Knowing there she’d discovered what “home” truly meant.

But Rochester’s marriage plans seemed in full swing,

And Jane knew that that could mean only one thing:

She’d have to leave Thornfield.  It just broke her heart

To think she and Rochester soon had to part.

Then he asked her to stay; she said, “I may be poor

And little, and plain, and completely obscure,

But I’m a free person.  I must leave this place.”

Then he gathered her into a loving embrace

And said she was his soul mate.  Jane hardly believed it,

But he offered his heart, and she gladly received it.

They planned to be married.  He wanted to hurry,

And although Jane was glad, there were moments of worry.

She had some misgivings – some things seemed not right –

But she set them aside in her joy and delight.

The wedding day came, she put on her white dress,

And they rushed to the church – but then, oh, what a mess!

When objections are asked for, we never expect

That someone will come forth and the wedding be wrecked.

But that’s just what happened:  up stepped a man

And put the kibosh on the whole wedding plan.

He said “Rochester’s already married, you see,”

And the minister stopped things immediately.

Rochester explained that he had a mad wife

Who’d been locked up in Thornfield for much of her life.

He’d been tricked into marrying, but found out too late

That his wife was a lunatic – what a sad fate.

He’d locked her away, tried escaping his pain,

And felt destined for misery till he met Jane.

Jane’s poor heart was broken, her dreams were now dead.

Where she’d hoped for joy, she’d found sorrow instead.

She could not live in sin.  She knew she must flee.

Rochester cried out, “But Jane, what about ME?”

She pitied and loved him but knew what was right;

She packed up and fled in the dark of the night.

Jane wandered alone, full of terror and dread,

Then she knocked at a cottage and asked for some bread.

The servant said no, but the home’s owner came

And helped her inside and asked her her name.

Poor Jane could not speak; she slept in a haze

And only recovered after several long days.

The parson who’d rescued her lived in that place

With his sisters.  Concern showed in each woman’s face

But the brother, St. John, was a cool, distant bloke.

While his sisters effused, why, he barely spoke.

They cared for Jane kindly, but he stood aloof,

Though he seemed glad to have her there under his roof.

She would not give her name nor explain her whole past,

So he bided his time:  it would come clear at last.

Jane got her strength back.  St. John offered a place

As a village schoolteacher; she accepted with grace.

She enjoyed her new friends and her new, quiet life,

Though her longing was still to be Rochester’s wife.

One day St. John came with some good news to share.

He’d discovered her name was really Jane Eyre,

And he also disclosed that the uncle (now dead)

Whom her Aunt Reed had mentioned upon her death-bed

Had left Jane some money.  She also discovered

That she was a relative to the girls and their brother.

She shared her inheritance with them, elated

To find out they were not just her friends, but related.

 Then St. John surprised her by proposing they marry.

He was heading to Africa as a missionary

And he thought Jane was suited to that kind of task—

But to Jane, the prospect was just too much to ask.

She could not marry him: he was more like her brother!

Her love was for Rochester and for no other.

She knew well that St. John was full of ambition

And would freeze her warm heart with his lofty, cold mission.

But she loved him – so, wanting to please him somehow,

She suggested a plan that might just do for now.

She would go as his sister.  But he said, “No way!

Why, that would be lying, and that’s NOT okay.”

He resisted all beggin’ and pleadin’ and whingin’,

For he was a cold-hearted dude, was our St. John.

But then Jane, just as she was about to succumb,

Heard a voice call out to her. She answered, “I’ll come!”

She knew that Rochester was calling her name,

And to go back and help him was her only aim.

She rushed back to Thornfield to find it in ruin.

Some servants soon told her of these latest doings:

The mad wife had set fire to Thornfield estate,

Then jumped from the wall – sudden death was her fate.

Rochester had suffered some burns and was blind.

Jane’s heart swelled with pity, but she knew her own mind:

She knew that with him she was destined to be

And would cleave to him whether or not he could see.

She found him, then reached out and gave him her hand.

He took it, cried out – he could not understand

Whether she was a ghost or the Jane he once knew,

But she soon reassured him that yes, it was true:

His own Jane was back, and her love was unshaken.

Though she’d left – rightly so – he was never forsaken.

And now, with no deep moral qualms to impede her,

Well, what do you think?  -- She married him, reader.


Jeannie Prinsen 2015