Embracing Pride (Part 2) When Enemies Become Friends

Two sayings come to mind for this post.   “Always remember to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  And, “We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interest.”  The first I heard in a scene from the classic film, “The Godfather.”  The other I heard from talk show host and political activist Tavis Smiley though he may have not originated it.  These are some of the wisest statements ever and yet many of us sleep on its genius.  I definitely have not fully subscribed in the past because when I think of enemies I think of the hurt they have caused me – the betrayal, the lies, etc.  My first instinct when coming across the people who I know have hurt me intentionally – (though sometimes they even smile in my face) is to resist them at all cost.  If I see he/she coming one way, I usually go the other.  I avoided conversation and any type of small talk or contact with the individuals who I knew not to have my best interest at heart.

However, I am learning now that total isolation from our enemies can do more harm than good in the long run.  My classroom has been within some of my own business dealings.  One of my business ventures requires a lot of networking and since I am new to this particular business that means double for me.  It’s been often said that it’s not about what you know – it’s who you know.  Well that’s not completely true.  In reality it’s who knows you!  I can know the CEO of a company but in order for me to benefit from his/her favor or influence depends on if he/she knows who I am when my name is mentioned.  Fortunately, I have managed to gain quite a few notable contacts within this field that now know and respect my name.  And slowly I am building up credentials that will give me business for several years to come should everything continue on course.  But as in any venture I also have my share of detractors and haters.  (Thank you Rich House for reminding me to embrace my haters!)  One such hater is actually a person I have known for over 10 years.  He has been in the field for over 20 years and I looked to him for guidance, advice and connections.  Admittedly this person started off helping me quite a bit.  But then I noticed a turn in his attitude after he began to notice that I started to take off and create a network for myself which increased my opportunities within the field.  He noticed me at different places and wondered aloud to me, “How did you get turned on to this?  Who did you speak with?  That person didn’t call me.  How much business did you acquire? Etc.”  I could tell in his tone that he was envious at my progress – and I have very strong evidence that he made efforts to take some business away from me that I obtained through a mutual  contact.  From the beginning these revelations hurt quite a bit.  And I felt that a person of his stature should be happy for me – especially because he knew of my career situation and the fact that I was struggling to make ends meet.  Initially I though to avoid this person – or even give him a piece of my mind.  Instead, I kept my approach professional and gave him the appearance of respect.  In the meantime when he ask I don’t give him accurate accounts of my progress – and since he still has the power to give me business occasionally, I give him the impression of gratefulness on my behalf.  For every time I get even an ounce of business from him, I have the opportunity to profit initially and show my skills and abilities to other potential clients.  Its not as if I am not thankful in reality.  It’s that I understand the games being played when ego and greed are involved.  Often to get what we want we may have to stroke or placate someone’s ego a bit for desired results. 

This lesson came up again as I was reading, “An Ordinary Man,” written by Paul Rusesabagina who was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Rwanda as portrayed by Don Cheadle in the movie, Hotel Rwanda.”  He spoke of doing business with many of the people he did not consider to be friends – some of whom were out to kill him and the over 1200 refugees he protected in the hotel during the genocide in 1994.  General Augustin Bizimungu was a major player in the vicious murders of 800,000 Rwandans.  He was charged with war crimes and is in a Tanzanian prison.  In the midst of the unrest and extreme violence, Paul maintained a friendship with him that was started mostly by Paul’s services rendered to the general and people of power like him at the hotel.  But it was with a purpose.  Paul explains it himself in his book, “An Ordinary Man.”

I have been criticized for my friendship with him during the genocide, but I have never apologized for it.  “How could you have stayed close to such a vile man?”  I am asked, and my answer is this: I do not excuse whatever he may have done to promote the genocide, but I never heard him agree with any of the bloodshed when he was in my presence.  I had to stay close to him because he could help me save lives.  I would have stayed close to anyone who could help me do that. 

He then went further to illustrate yet another important point.  In describing the general in more depth:

… There is a saying in Rwanda: “Every man has a secret corner in his mind that nobody will ever know.”  And I do not think I know enough about Bizimungu’s secret corner to judge him.  He may have done terrible things in Rwanda before and during the genocide, but I know that he stepped in for me at crucial moments to save lives of innocent people when it was of no conceivable benifit to him.  If I had ended that friendship, I do not think I would be here to write these words today.  There are at least 1,268 people who survived the killing partly because of the instructions of Bizimungu. In my book that counts for something.  (P. 162-163)

 

While I am disapointed in this particular person, I am not going to write off his value and humanity.  He is still a child of God in my eyes and each day he lives, like myself he has opportunity for regeneration and growth. If he wants to hurt me for apparently no reason, then there is something inside himself that is lacking.  But I digress.  The main point is that there is no shame to the one to doing business with people who think less of your value.  It is in no way selling out as long inward dignity is preserved.  As the bible says, in life we have to be as wise as serpents and yet gentle as doves.  Many black men for instance had to subject their egos at the door of humility when operating within Jim Crow segregation.  They were called boy, and at other times much worse.  While some men felt inferior I’m sure, still many more understood other people’s ignorance could not define them.  And having the ability to earn a living for family is honorable above all.  As I like to say, this is an inward issue.  Its one thing to cower from within and an even worse practice to betray one’s principles for a dollar; I know many such men who appear to be well off and yet inwardly they are slaves to their position, status and income.  But I submit as well that a man can pick his battles, act strategically, get his money and keep his dignity.  In this case, I am such the man.

Perhaps one day I may let this person know that I have known for some time that he has not had my best interest at heart.  But for the foreseeable future – I can allow his ego to flounder while it falsely confirms itself as superior in my own financial interest.

Selah

Pictured is Paul Rusesabagina with me and my son Christian during a book signing visit in St. Louis

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Embracing Pride (Part 1)

Talk about unlearning – this is one for me.  The word pride has always given me several different thoughts and reactions – and yet I could never put them together to come to a conclusion of what they meant and how I should or should not apply them in my life.  Some studying has helped me to adjust some of my thinking.  Let me explain.

American English is a language that has words which carry many multiple meanings – especially when you mix it with the slangs that become part of the language and culture of communication.   English is not the oldest language in existence.  And many of it’s words derive from root words of other languages such as French, and Greek etc.  Therefore, the process can be complex for non natives when it comes to mastering the words and their meanings.  For instance, when we speak of love it has basically one definition.  And we roll it off our tongues quickly; i.e. “I love you baby” or “I love that song” – {or that car or my pet etc.}  I overheard a conversation once when a man told a woman he loved her, and she responded, “Like you love the old women at your church?”  And yet in the Hebrew language there are several words to describe the different forms of affection and devotion to describe a love for a parent, versus a love for a pet, versus a love for a significant other.  In English, we are left with one word and with that word the speaker and the listener are left with the task of deciphering which clear definition is really intended.  Or as Run DMC said back in the day, “Not bad meaning bad – but bad meaning good!”

This is the problem with the word pride.  I was taught to shun the word and embrace a singular meaning.  This comes mostly from my teachings reflective of the bible from scriptures such as Proverbs which talks about pride coming before a fall – how God hates pride and so forth.  We are taught to give all the praise and glory to God even when we as people accomplish something good.  I embraced those virtues so even when I’ve accomplished some of my own personal goals or saw some success I’ve earned through discipline and hard work, I have always been careful to reference God and take no personal reward for the accomplishment.

An example that comes to mind was when some years ago I formed, managed and played on a men’s basketball team and we won the league championship at St. Louis University.  As the buzzer sounded giving us an exciting one point victory, while all of my teammates jumped for joy and congratulated one another, I knelled down and thanked God for allowing us to win.  I was more humbled by the victory than anything else because I had built the team from scratch and I knew what we had been though as a team to get there.  It was very personal to me for reasons I won’t elaborate on now.  The main thing is that I didn’t want to give the appearance to God that I was celebrating or enjoying this too much.  The whole experience was actually very anti-climatic. 

Because I did not have a complete assessment of the whole picture – I did not enjoy this victory as I should have.  With pride I had one word to reference – and one reference to define it.  There are other similar words we have within our language such as arrogance, but somehow or another they always seem to find connection back to the word pride. 

There is a 7 book series by various authors which deals with each of the 7 deadly sins.  According to Professor Michael Eric Dyson who penned the book dealing with the sin of Pride in his book by the same name, the words defining this vice were first separated into their respective categories in order to reflect a more definitive understanding of the differing meanings.  But then they were combined later on.  Writes Dyson,

…Evagrius of Pontus was one of the first Christian thinkers to refer to cardinal sins-there were eight of them in his reckoning -and vainglory and pride snagged the sixth and seventh spots on his list.  It wasn’t until late in the sixth century that Pope Gregory I boasted pride to, well, its pride of place among the sins.  Actually it was superbia, the Latin equivalent of the Greek hubris, that Gregory’s list until the concepts were subsequently combined in pride, which eventually earned the premium nod on most conventional list.  Gregory held that “pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as scripture bear witness: ‘Pride is the beginning of all sin.’

With this revelation and in reading the book completely – I have come to understand that pride in its separate manifestations can mean different things – and are not at all synonymous.  As stated above there is vainglory – which defined in my perception is an arrogant way of perceiving ones self for example.

As creative beings, we have the power to re-define words and their meanings to fit into our spectrum.  We do this all the time but more so on a social communicative level – like in the 70s we used to say, “That was cold-blooded.”  Cold-blooded had no reference to the reptiles in my science books – but to describe for example: an attractive woman, the style and shine of a vehicle, the fashion in which someone did someone wrong, or an outfit.  We used these interchangeably and most times if you were in on the lingo, you knew which meaning held serve.

This is the same way for pride.  As Al Pacino said in “The Devil’s Advocate,” Vanity, (or Vainglory) my favorite sin!”  This speaks of the temptation man falls into when his ambition supersedes his core values which will lead to a fall.  Pride can be used as a form of stubbornness when a person will not receive instruction or correction – in claiming that he/she must always be right.  These are the negative sides of pride.  For me the negative form of pride in short is when one exaults himself above another in thought, word, or deed.  This is not an issue of status, but of the heart.  If there is some circumstance, position, amount of money, status, knowledge, etc. that allow one to place himself above another in his heart – that is vainglory or vanity or the bad side of pride.

But there are also virtuous definitions as well.  One can have pride in being good and excellent at what he/she does.  Pride in this sense is the same as having a standard that says value will not be compromised.  I have participated in sporting events when my wanting to be my best cause me to push myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish in order to claim sporting victories against better skilled athletes.  When I check the spelling and grammar in my writing – or double check the processes of an assignment at the office – my standard of excellence is a source of pride. 

Another virtue of the proper pride is that it sets limitations when necessary.  We will not be abused mentally or physically by others when we have proper pride.   Proper pride (what I will call dignity)

In the biblical sense there is a scripture in Romans where it says, “do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think.”  By the text I surmise there is a level of high thinking that we should embrace. 

Though I hate arrogance, (yet another word similar to vainglory) even when I see it in myself, there is nothing wrong and everything right with having a sense of personal excellence.  The will manifest in love of and confidence in self – though not in the degradation of others to justify the love and confidence.  Reality says there is no competition among unique beings.  My struggle – my task is to become as great as I can possibly be by maximizing my own talents and gifts – and then displaying them into the world where rewards will come.  Finally whether one has pride or is vain-glorious is an inward issue.  Sometimes others can see whether we are full of ourselves, but with a bit of quiet reflection we can see for ourselves and must judge for ourselves where we really are.  I want to embrace the good pride of excellence within the humility of love and servant-hood.  I cannot accept credit for gifts that The Creator has given me – but I can enjoy using these gifts in service to others while reaping some personal rewards with an inward satisfaction when my light shines.  When rewards come, I should celebrate and enjoy them, knowing that they were earned.