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Soulful Sundays: Pride

"True words aren't eloquent; eloquent words aren't true. Wise men don't need to prove their point; men who need to prove their point aren't wise. The Master has no possessions. The more he does for others, the happier he is. The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is. The Tao nourishes by not forcing. By not dominating, the Master leads." -Lao Tzu

One of the most important skills that we can ever learn is how to be confident. Confidence is the power to take ownership of our personal growth and development as human beings. It is the courage to seek the truth, and be humbled by it. It is the spark to create new relationships, ideas, and art. Confident people build others up and do their work, all without expectation of reward. Unfortunately, confidence is not something that can be directly taught. It is learned through doing, and it must be earned.

The 1990s marked a major paradigm shift for primary education in the United States. The "Self-Esteem Movement" swept out of California into almost every public jurisdiction, becoming the new science of how to best help children succeed. Instead of rewarding only those who demonstrated sufficient mastery of a subject or sport, teachers and coaches were encouraged to reward all kids just for trying (and in some cases, just for existing). Low-self esteem was vilified as the root cause for poor performance in the classroom and on the playing field.

Participation rewards and last-place ribbons became commonplace across the younger generations, and their effects can still be seen today. Millennials, Gen-Z, and Gen-Alpha are the most ego-centered generations to have ever been born. Popular youth culture spends an excessive amount of time contemplating their identities (often more concerned with shaping their virtual ones than their physical ones) at the expense of creating experiences and relationships. As a result, children have become less social, less active, and far more despondent. Social media and smartphones are both contributing factors, but their is a far more sinister culprit at play--pride.

Pride is the result of confidence that is untethered to the larger story of interdependence that is inherent to life. It is the refusal to make short term sacrifices today, for the greater good of tomorrow. Pride happens when we believe we are exempt from both hard work and failure. It causes us to defend our narcissistic beliefs as a matter of survival, instead of living in community with others. Pride is the death of cooperation and learning.

We may boost the immediate self-esteem of our children by building them up, but without doing anything to grow their true self-confidence they are bound to fall. True confidence comes from knowing that we have put the necessary amount of attention into our projects and that we have pressure-tested our values in the arena of life. Confidence is adaptive, making it prophylactic for the hard times that are destined to befall us.

One biological explanation for depression is that there is no difference between our brains during a depressive state and our brains during preoccupation on "the self." When we conceive of ourselves in isolation, as an alarming number of people do these days, we fall prey to the negative emotions associated with pride, such as arrogance or entitlement. If we are all first place winners at heart (with no need for actual proof) then why aren't we as successful as others? Thus, we fall into the spiraling tendency of the ego to blame--Why can't I get ahead in life?--Why do bad things keep happening to me?--I am being oppressed.

When teaching our young ones (and ourselves) about confidence, we must remember to 1) anchor it to actual skills and 2) to link it with a purpose larger than the individual. Striving to be useful is a blend of the two. Yes, we are all unique, but how can we use those idiosyncrasies to benefit the people around us? How can we make our contributions matter--not because they belong to us, but because our gifts are part of the whole orchestra? How do we remain humble and proud of our accomplishments without succumbing to the temptations of pride?

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Thank you for sharing wisdom. So many needed lessons and we are grateful for learning.

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