Posts Tagged 'dignity'

Choosing Battle


I enjoy playing and watching sports, particularly basketball and football. I enjoy the skill and competition, though I could live without the macho testosterone driven parts. Nevertheless those moments when things really heat up can be revealing.

I remember watching an NBA game one night where the Timberwolves’ player Kevin Garnett, whom I love, and is a respected battler on the court, found himself facing off against a player on another team (I don’t even remember who it was anymore). Kevin’s unintentional body language in that moment revealed even through a wild swinging punch he threw that he did not want to be engaged in that fight. It was so obvious to anyone tuned in to that sort of thing. But of course he had a reputation and pride to uphold, so he went through the motions.

Character is revealed in the heat of battle. Do we really want to be there, or would a quiet escape suit? Do we push through and do our duty, in spite of the risk and fear?

Examine your internal monolog as you read and think about this. My guess is it’s probably coming from a moral orientation. You see failure to step up to the plate as morally wrong, and a shortcoming.

That can be true, but if we get off of our moral high-horse for a moment, we can also understand that everyone has certain things worth fighting for. We just don’t all have the same ones. Sure, some have a higher predisposition toward fighting, but every man can be a coward if he doesn’t believe in either the cause or his chances of winning, or at least saving face.

It’s too simplistic to view character through the polarized lens of black and white, of you have it or you don’t. Character is more nuanced. What is a person’s character telling him or her is the right thing to do? Amazingly, someone could be doing a thing that we feel is immoral, but is actually consistent with that person’s character and view of the world or situation, and not wrong.

Oh, but it is so hard for us to accept this, because we’re so programmed. And we have our own agenda.



Impressions are (nearly) Permenant

“But what will I tell my people?”

Once someone makes a decision about something subjective, it’s almost impossible to persuade them that they were wrong. Not just because it’s difficult to really be ‘wrong’ about subjective things, or sometimes to even quantify them, but because you’re no longer asking them to remake the first decision, you’re asking them to admit an error, which is a whole other thing.

Compounding this, we often make it awkward for someone who is trying to come around to be embraced, largely because they are hurt that they were rejected in the first place.

The opportunity is to encourage them to look at new information and make a new decision. Give them the story they need to rationalize the change. “Well, I know I said X, but that was before she/he/they listened to me and changed…”

Step two is to celebrate the newcomer, not to dredge up their past positions and wave them in their face.

An Unselfish To Do List

dancerssilBy their nature, most to-do lists are self-focused. This is a different kind of list; here are four things you could do today for other people:

1. Make another person feel they belong. 

The superficial greetings that make the greeter feel good can diminish into the reality of a lack of connection for a person who is new or in an unfamiliar (uncomfortable) environment.

Maybe it’s the guy in accounting who always eats lunch alone. Maybe it’s the guy from shipping who always stands at the edge of a group. It’s easy to spot people who feel hesitant and out of place. Pick one. Say hi. Say something nice. Say, or do, something that makes them feel a slightly bigger connection – to your company, to a group, or just to you.

They may not show it, but they’ll definitely appreciate the gesture.

2. Make a person feel good about what they do.

Rarely does a restaurant delivery guy hope to make his career delivering food. Rarely does a sales clerk or entry-level manual laborer hope to stay in that job forever. High-level workers tend to attract high-level attention. Lower level workers often feel invisible; an unseen, unnoticed, unappreciated cog in the machine. Such a shame since everyone really is important and deserves to be treated with respect.

Pick someone in your company, or elsewhere. Doesn’t matter. Don’t just offer a throwaway, “Thanks.” Say thanks and mean it. Or give a sincere compliment. Or ask a question that shows respect for what that person does. For that moment, make sure the other person knows you see and appreciate them as a person, not just as an employee.

3. Offer a person hope. 

Have you ever met a person who didn’t dream of something better? We all have dreams and hopes, but sometimes it’s really hard to hold on to them. Sometimes all we need is for another person to fan our flickering flames of hope. To somehow show us that there is a way to get from here to there.

Buy a piece of art from an artist. Assign a small project to an employee you know hopes to be promoted; give her a chance, however small, to show her stuff. Ask a small supplier to provide a quote; give them a chance to earn your business. Really listen to someone with the intent to understand and get to know them. Engage them in a meaningful conversation, or include them (see above) in an important activity.

The best way to offer someone hope is to show you believe in them, even when – especially when – they don’t quite believe in themselves.

4. Give to a person in need. 

Years ago, the first time I went to Europe, a well-meaning person told me not to make eye contact with beggars. “Once you make eye contact, they’re all over you.”

A while later I was with a friend in NYC, and when riding the subway I noticed she gave a little money to a man who walked through the car with his hat in hand. She also gave money to people sitting against buildings holding torn, faded cardboard signs declaring their need. When I asked about it, she said, “If a man is desperate enough to say, ‘Can you help me?’ how could I ever say no? He’s asking me for help.” She paused. “Plus, hopefully for a few moments they’ll feel a little less alone. Hopefully they’ll feel like a few people really do care about them.” Humbling.

I’d normally be the first one to say we do these things to make ourselves feel better. It’s true, but on this day I was reminded by a person with a bigger heart than me that there is still a real person on the other end of that transaction who benefits.

Try it. Give directly. Give to a person who asks. Give a dollar here, or five dollars there.

To you and me it may be little, but to a person in need it could be a lot. To a person in need our small gestures could make all the difference.

The thing about all of these benevolent acts is they will each make you feel better. Even if you do them for your own selfish reasons the good you do is still positive energy in the world. We’re all in this together.

Pride and Face


Pride is one of those words in our linguistic interpretation of the world that has so many nuanced meanings as to be unable to fully convey a thought without a clear accompanying context. Strictly, what it really means is the derivation of pleasure or satisfaction from an achievement, but we have sort of twisted it into two more polarizing definitions. A person characterized as prideful…

  1. (Negative) – Exhibits hubris. Conveys a mood of being too satisfied with oneself. One who is boastful and arrogant. Often includes a lack of empathy or sensitivity towards others (indifference). It can sometimes manifest in condescending ways that may feel pretty insulting. To some it is considered one of the most negative human traits that surfaces.
  2. (Positive) – Someone who takes care with himself. “He takes a lot of pride in his appearance.” Or, “…in a job well done.” When we say these things, we don’t just mean that the person derives satisfaction from something accomplished. What we’re really inferring is that he does a good job. “He takes pride in his lawn,” connotes that his lawn looks good to us (our own assessment) and secondarily that he gets satisfaction from it, which helps explain to us why he takes the time.

To further illustrate the lack of clarity, consider the antonym for pride. Is it, gloom, melancholy, woe, disgrace, humility, modesty, shyness, low self-esteem? These and more are listed as antonyms. For beings so utterly dependent on our linguistic interpretations, we sure lack precision with them a lot of times.

The range of meanings likely stems from the need to characterize the degree of pride one exhibits, the context for it, how it manifests, whether we value the issue ourselves, and how steadfastly one holds on to a particular point of view. Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to consider!

“He has too much pride to see the world as it is and change,” or “he can’t back down from being wrong” means something very different from, “he is too self aggrandizing,” which is different from, “he takes a lot of pride in how well his daughter handles herself.”

We view it morally, even though in one instance it can be a good moral characteristic, and the next a bad one.

When someone’s actions are significantly driven by a desire to look favorable to others or to please people, this is also a version of pride. It is our attempt to look good to and feel good about ourselves, as we perceive we might be or are being viewed through the eyes of others. Whether it’s the good kind or bad kind of pride is pretty subjective and contextual. Are we dressing nicely, or keeping up appearances?

This moves us into the area of losing or saving face, which is intertwined with pride in the way we use and think about it linguistically. Again, we are not precise in how we understand it. The phrase is used like a verb (losing face or saving it), but connotes a characteristic. To lose face indicates we have done something wrong, been bad, been shown up, or have been humiliated, therefore we’re often perceived as being bad, wrong, weak, etc. It’s not simply an alternative for humiliation. It’s a special type of humiliation. Losing face connotes more self-imposed guilt or moral wrongness than mere humiliation. Like we were trying to look good (saving face) in spite of being wrong, but it went awry and now we have lost face instead.

Pride makes us want to save face, or avoid circumstances in which we risk losing face. Most of us put a terrific effort into maintaining our image, in spite of what may be percolating underneath. We will consciously do things that are not in our best interest or that of others for the sake of saving face, so long as it doesn’t appear we are doing it simply to try to save face.

Unlike pride, we don’t see a morally good version of face – saving or losing. “Face” refers to one’s own sense of dignity or prestige, but is all about an interpretation of how we feel we are being viewed by others. However there is a little nuance in it that leaves room for another interpretation.

  1. Trying to save face, while never positive, is sometimes understood as being a normal behavior and accepted. Recognizing that someone is trying to save face somehow seems a little more forgivable than someone who is too prideful. The former is an action, limited to a specific context, whereas the latter is more of a general characterization.
  2. Losing face is seen as morally bad because the assumption is face was trying to be saved in spite of mounting evidence that the person or entity in question was wrong. But recognizing that someone is willing to lose face is very different. That can be viewed as humility, or even character.

Let’s play it out and see where this goes. There are some useful examples listed in a post from a few years ago called When Character Battles Reputation. Check it out. The concepts of character and reputation have interesting parallels to face and pride. Now we have four terms in the mix that all have pretty strong moral baggage attached to them along with intricate nuances in how they are used and what they mean contextually.

Let’s look at the example of quitting. Depending on the context, one can quit due to either version of pride, or suffer either version of face.

A person considers leaving a marriage. She resists in part because it’s perceived as a face loosing thing to do. Pride (we might say the good kind) is at the root of that. However, if we believe this woman has what are to us valid reasons for doing so, then the tables turn, and the losing of face is considered brave and strong; something she could be proud of, in spite of the failure not being something to be proud of.

Check this out: sometimes losing face is the best way to save face!!

Staying the course and making the best of it are considered morally good in one context, but in a different one would be viewed as stubborn or prideful. Or possibly weak and lacking self respect — no pride in oneself.

Do you see how the nuances of all of these concepts that appear to us as having reasonably objective definitions can so easily move around? This is because it’s all perception, including morality. Some of you will stand back and declare that we know right from wrong, and the rest is simply semantics or excuses. This black and white viewpoint neglects the fact that OUR INTERPRETATION OF REALITY IS FOCUSED THROUGH LANGUAGE. The fact that our language is imprecise merely is a reflection of the fact that while we may believe we have an objective view of the world, and that black is black and white is white, we really do not. It is subjective. Contextual. Perception. All of it. It comes to us from our culture, or surroundings, and things that turn into our beliefs – our morality, which seems unchangeable. But that doesn’t inherently make it right, and that certainly doesn’t make it what’s best for us. As a society we by definition tend to agree on a lot of the interpretations we use, and are therefore sometimes confused or even offended when others don’t see it the same way.

To give those interpretations too much weight is to cage oneself in worry about what others will think to the point that we betray our true Selves.

So lose face. Bask in the fear of it, because it’s just an emotion – your lizard brain trying to keep you safe. Others are going to judge or hate. That’s their cross to bear. They don’t serve you. They only serve themselves and do not want to have their way of life or beliefs perturbed, or to have to think through them beyond the boundaries they have been given and accepted. By all means take a reasonable amount of pride in who you are and what you do (i.e. try to be good and do good), but the pride of face saving is a tranquilizer that interferes with you being your authentic Self, which is a vital skill to master on the road to happiness.

Just remember, it is not some objective reality out there. It’s in you and your interpretation. You can’t ignore that the interpreted, subjective reality is where everyone lives. That would be too arrogant and prideful, and ultimately not productive, but you can’t allow yourself to be ruled by all of that either. That’s just a different kind of pride that’s no better.

Lose some face. It’s not so bad.




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