God is wanting to teach me about the dangers of pride and the downside of privilege.
I'm a slow learner.
I know this because I am getting lessons about pride and privilege nearly every day it seems, from different people, over and over and over again. So it must be important and I need to pay closer attention.
Most recently the lesson came to light as I was reading the proceedings from a recent conference at Guilford College on a "new kind of Quaker" and the Emergent and Convergent movements that are influencing modern American Friends.
I found myself getting angry that Friends--Friends that I don't know personally--were talking about Convergent Quakers. That's when I realized I had unknowingly "bestowed" upon myself and a handful of others the "privilege" and the "right" to talk about Convergent Friends.
My ego and pride had become overinvested in my (very ephemeral) place in the online conversation.
I needed to change my thinking about all of this: Many Friends all over the world have begun learning about Convergent Friends, and of course this isn't a new phenomenon at all. It's just a new word.
It took reading about this conference to burst my ballooning ego, and I'm the first to say I needed that particular balloon popped (again). If there is Truth and Life enough in what is going on to help Quakers reclaim and live into our vibrant faith tradition, then that is enough, and that fruit is of the Spirit, not of any single person's efforts or own good thinking.
It's painful to look in the mirror--but it also makes for good blogging fodder.
I am thinking once more about being meek and staying low.
Oh, how frequently my pride and vanity get in the way!
So many times I do think I have really good ideas or I do think I know how to navigate through conflict and tense moments or I do think I know how to help convey Quakerism in meaningful ways to new attenders.
One of the dangers of this sort of pride, though, is that if I believe that I'm "so good," that often goes along with a deep and unspoken belief that so many others. . . aren't.
If in fact these are gifts that I carry--creativity, bridge-building, guidance--they are gifts from the Spirit and not of my own making. And these gifts aren't exclusively given only to me.
I will bow and be simple,Thinking that I am really good at a task can make me too quick to act when someone else may have an equally valuable--or even greater!--skill to offer or an important perspective to add. So many times I am reminded that we each have different gifts, different perspectives--and all are needed!
I will bow and be free
I will bow and be humble
Yea bow like the willow tree.
I will bow this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and be broken,
Yea I'll fall upon the rock.
In my humanness, though, my pride often makes me blind and deaf to the gifts that others bring or that others may be developing, and I end up trampling on my comrades rather than "lifting them up."
Pride too can make me think I know what's best, and I become quick to discount or dismiss the opinions and ideas that others wish to contribute.
And then God steps in, or sends a messenger, to remind me...
Most recently, we hired Pete (not his real name) in the neighborhood for some fall yard clean-up. The leaves were many and were still somewhat wet from the recent rain. More rain was called for overnight, just before our morning pick-up for yard waste. I was glad that Pete was available and he filled up three-and-a-half of those extra-large paper sacks with the leaves from just our front yard.
In fact, Pete had filled the bags so full that there was no extra bag to fold over to keep out the upcoming rain.
I began to say something to him, like "Could you leave a bit of room at the top so the bag could be folded over...?" and he replied, "It'll be fine." A few days later, Pete told me he wouldn't do any more work for me, that I was too nit-picky.
I am wondering if there were other interactions that Pete and I have had in recent years that led to his perception that I was nit-picky, but the main thing is, my ego was bruised. My pride was hurt and I wanted to get angry at Pete for... for calling me names....?
I had thought I had been treating Pete well and with respect, but his comment to me has forced me to look at myself through his eyes. Am I too nit-picky? Do I insist too frequently that things be done my way?
Am I too prideful in thinking I have the right to interject what I think about any given situation?
Privilege pairs with pride for that reason, I think. Because I have privilege, I have access to any number of things--or at least I assume I do--and I internalize the message lived out by others of privilege:
- The world at large and its institutions revolve around, and keep in power, those with privilege.
The right to speak my mind--not only to interject my point of view but also to impose my worldview unwittingly onto others--without fear of retaliation, ridicule, harassment, or violence is among the rights that I seem to abuse the most.
When I stay awake to that abuse--entitling myself to have more power than I do, to take advantage of the access to more power than others have, to give myself more decision-making opportunities than others have--I am humbled.
- I will bow and be broken
Yea I fall upon the rock.
- "There's nothing wrong, there's nothing wrong. You don't have to give anything up. Just help others to get a little bit more." You don't have to change because there's nothing wrong, nothing wrong..."
I have to work hard to remember that racial privilege and social class privilege can only exist where there is racism and classism.
Where there is oppression, there is privilege. Where there is disenfranchisement, there is entitlement.
And because I am a person of privilege, I must resist the tendency to become defensive when I am pointed to as acting entitled or as being part of the systemic, societal oppression.
This particular sentence from Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack haunts me, as I continue to become aware of my deeply embedded classism as well as continued racism:
Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women's studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, "having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?"The phrase "what will I do to lessen or end it?" has a resonance in me the way I imagine Samuel Bownas' inward cry--"...Lord, what shall I do to help it?"--was called forth in response to the minister who chided him.
These are deep and difficult issues, tangled in my subconscious and in my heart. More and more these days, I work to untangle them.
Here's a piece from my journal, when I was taking a hard look at my unearned privilege as a white, well-educated, owning class American:
Privilege puts ME at the center.The Light pierces my heart and reveals to me my ego's tight grasp on pride and privilege.
MY communication style.
But my "needs" aren't necessarily needs at all.
And as I let go of any individual privilege, I go against the unspoken American Middle Class Norm--to be better, to have more, to keep more, to expect more, to be given more.
Once I have a privilege--earned or unearned--it's hard to choose to let it go for the sake of standing in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who have less.
Ahh, break me Lord, if you must. But I pray it be gentle and that I be willing to yield, to bow like the willow tree.