I am confident that the entire world is pretty familiar with the story of Lucifer’s fall from grace. I think a lot of people are also familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, who also had a bit of a problem and fall from grace. As a child that was something I was taught multiple times, but there was a larger point to these stories. There was an underlying theme of pride; of beings trying to be like or better than the Divine. I linked a wiki page for Lucifer (primarily to the mythology section) above that tells of similar stories in other cultures.
I was inspired to write about mental health this week, but I was struck with the larger problem that makes it such an epidemic. This isn’t just in our country this is worldwide. Human beings have become addicted to our pride. We are a race of proud creatures who are terrified at the prospect of being humble or letting someone else get ahead of us.
In his best-selling novel The Kite Runner, Khalid Hosseini writes about this idea passed from father to son about there being only one sin, theft. He goes on to explain:
“When you kill a man, you steal a life,” Baba said. “You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. Do you see?”
I always liked that definition. It simplified the world in a way. A few years ago I had a long car ride with youth ministry superstar and all round nice guy Brock Morgan. We discussed several things including my many bumps in the road on the path to fulfilling my now broken dream of being in ministry, to marriage, to life, and then to this idea of sin. I can’t fully remember word for word what he said, and my paraphrase won’t do it justice, but he said something that made the former into a more full concept for me. He said something along the lines of there really is only one sin, Pride. Everything wrong with the world can be boiled down to someone’s selfishness.
Okay, I agree that is overly simplistic and a bit reductionist to a larger problem, but it was something that stuck. I liked it because it made sense to me. Why did my wife and I argue last week? Because I was being selfish and I wanted my way. Why did I take the last donut? Because I was kind of hungry and I was too lazy to think of anyone else. Why would someone tell a lie and steal someone’s right to the truth? Because they felt it would benefit them in some way.
A Double-Edged Sword
There is a weird problem when it comes down to pride. You have this sliding scale where there is too much end you end up with a person who is a super ego (not talking about the superego Freud talked about). I mean very much someone who, I’m sure you can picture them now, if full of the id that Freud talked about. Someone who thinks they are the absolute best and deserve everything that comes to them. They are selfishness personified. Then at the other end of the spectrum, you have someone who is full of the actual superego. Someone who believes they don’t deserve anything and have had that reinforced by events and people and have given them this complex of pride where it prevents them from asking for help.
I’m sure you have this struggle yourself. I think we all do as human beings. We want to like ourselves, but we have this weird addiction to pride that when we begin to like what we have done we are afraid of becoming full of ourselves and end up swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum. We begin to believe that we have to attain the same level of perfection every time to be a success.
Pride is a double-edged sword and an almost damned if you do, damned if you don’t type thing. We end up in this spiral of pride, self-doubt, denial, inability to ask for help and despair. Maybe it can be more akin to an infection. When pride gets in we tend to destroy ourselves in trying to become the best or at least the best in our own minds.
It’s Totally Mental
I set out to write a blog post about mental health this week. This is a topic that is close to my heart, because as the statistics show I’m the 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. that struggles with a mental illness in a given year. There are a ton of stats out there including 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias. I struggle with anxiety and I wanted to talk about the stigma that we place on people who are open with their struggle and getting help. I wanted to write that, but when I started to think about it, it started to boil down to pride. It is a pride that is placed upon us from the outside and a pride that comes from inside as well.
Federico Babina created some incredible artwork portraying several different mental illnesses and disorders. One of the things that you see as a common thread in each of these pieces is the person being trapped or imprisoned within the house that has an unusual piece of architecture to portray the given disorder. I loved these because they really portrayed something I was unable to put into words. There is that bit of anxiety where it is like everything you do is in an attempt to protect yourself from feeling the hurt you felt in the past. Through help, I’m coming to realize that maybe it’s possible I won’t ever encounter the pain that I encountered before. Maybe I will, but the truth is I’m different now, I’m stronger. I can handle it. But that is still a daily struggle to take down the chains and barbed wire.
I got into some trouble by describing my anxiety in the past. I think it’s a little ironic that people end up forcing more pain upon you for humbling yourself and letting others know about your own struggle trying to avoid pain. It has a lot to do with pride. Pride forced me into this constant state of thinking I couldn’t ask for help. Pride pushed me into thinking that I couldn’t ever be good enough. Pride makes you think that when you have success, that you have to reach that level of success again just to be okay.
But it’s all in my head. It’s all in what we think. Honestly, we come back to these thoughts of how others perceive us instead of actually celebrating our own progress. This is a hard thing for me to realize myself, but progress is important. If I’m better than I was yesterday, that’s progress that’s a good thing! Maybe it doesn’t show on the outside, but we don’t need outward praise, primarily because there isn’t much, for your progress because it’s your progress.
There is this stigma on asking for help. There is a stigma on those who have too much pride. There is a stigma for those who don’t have enough. It seems like you can’t win.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” There is this a teaching in the Jewish religion that teaches moderation in the spirit and physical. There even is plenty of writing from the one of the most prolific of Christian writers St. Paul on moderation. I think it is pretty well publicized that all things are meant for moderation.
A few years ago I lost a lot of weight, 80lbs. I learned that it’s not what I was eating, it was how I was eating it. I was eating way way way more than I should have. But If I eat the things I liked in moderation, and maybe got up once in a while and went and did something active not only would I feel better, but it wouldn’t impact me as much as it did when I would overeat. Not saying that I’ve mastered this idea. I still overeat, I just know better now.
I think this is how it is meant to be with pride. We are meant to enjoy our lives. We are meant to enjoy ourselves. We are meant to enjoy each other and all of creation. The problem is we want too much. We want too much pride, we want too much praise, we want too much affirmation, we want too much for ourselves, and we take. Society tells us it’s okay to take. It’s okay to take what you want and not give a care for the other. The problem is as modern philosopher and college hippy musician of choice Dave Matthews put it, “Too Much.” I think that when we learn to be able to let go of the more than we need mentality we’ll be able to learn how to live with each other. We’ll make sure that we can give help to those who need it.
I’m not saying I have this mastered, no, quite the contrary. I’m still struggling to figure out how to live with just enough. I’m still trying to figure out how to walk that fine line in the middle of moderation. It’s a vulnerable spot. It’s a hard place to live in the middle. The world doesn’t have to be black or white, because in truth we are in the middle. We are so many shades of gray.