Updated: Dec 15, 2020
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
For the past 4 months I have been working from home and have found that I can remain productive, yet there is a gap in the time I had utilized to socialize and fraternize with people in the office. This time has often been replaced with a seemingly benign increase of ingestion of digital media namely through news, social media and sites like Reddit. Though my increase in usage of these sources has not been particularly focused nor directed, I have found that it works upon my emotional state in subtle ways with lasting tendrils far beyond the limited time spent on a mildly interesting link. Where before I utilized office socialization as a welcome break in a mental workday, I now find that those similar breaks while working from home have a significantly different impact on my emotional well-being.
The Age of Information has often been concurrently referred to as the “Age of Anxiety.” As this anxiety has crested over and spilled out across the digital Id of the internet landscape, I have found that much of what I read and ingest (outside of absurdity and comedy) can be characterized by outrage, indignation, and the thrumming drumbeat of cynical bad “news” and expert analysis (read: Editorial). This works upon me and my emotional state in subtle and insidious ways as the tone of my inner monologue strives to match and respond to the tenor of external influences and I find myself imagining myself in situations in which I am having these arguments, feeling this indignation and ultimately developing a sense of intellectual and egoistic pride. In my mind’s eye I argue with obstinate and imagined morons, I envision unrepentant representatives of corrupted institutions to rail against and I feel the indignation of not being listened to, understood or unable to affect. In reality though what this is is the development of a shield of pride.
“Pride is a fruitful source of uneasiness. It keeps the mind in disquiet. Humility is the antidote to this evil.” - Lydia Sigourney
Pride is a complex emotion which certainly has positive necessity among the range of human thoughts and feelings. Taking pride in achievements and survival of that which must be overcome is fundamental to the construction of identity and interwoven into the development of motivation. As with most human emotions, however, it is a double edged sword, one in which we have been warned of consistently by great thinkers and spiritualists of every age and every culture.
“When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities.” - David Hume
Pride can just as easily become a bunker for the ego, that which protects by closing oneself off to outside influences, ideas and relationships. Obstinacy, indignation and outrage are all expressions of pride ensuring that one is committed to a viewpoint of assuredness and immediate rejection of any countervailing position before it is even expressed. It is the pre-emptive strike of emotional and intellectual challenges and ensures that any form of empathetic understanding or compromising reconciliation is an arduous and unlikely path.
“You wear your honor like a suit of armor... You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Furthermore, as in Newton’s Third Law of Motion that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” so do the forces of emotion often beget similar emotions in social interactions. Prideful behaviors summon outraged and indignant responses among those who witness and receive it as we have seen in the (perhaps not so gradual) ramping up of incivility, intolerance and caustic rhetoric which has spilled from our political arena into our daily interactions. As the body and mind internalize these stimuli into emotions, one can feel the body immediately strive to discharge the energy in its similar form.
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
In response to this I have developed a little mental test with which to judge both my own thoughts as well as the external stimuli that I ingest. As I feel myself having an emotional response to a news article, internet post, interaction with another or even in response to my own imagination, I attempt to position myself as an outside observer and ask myself the following question:
“Is the voice of the narrator/main character/person I am interacting with acting or behaving/speaking/expressing pridefully or with humility?”
Pridefulness (and its children indignation, obstinance and outrage) does not inherently mean that the content of what is being said is incorrect or untruthful, however. This practice allows me to be both aware and wary of the emotional response it generates in myself and to circumvent the muscle memory to close myself off and respond similarly or wallow in kind. Emotional responses, especially when unexamined, have significant power over behavior and thoughts and are likely to snowball over time as each reaction begets similar reactions and trains the mind and body to respond more quickly in kind. This power is limited by giving oneself the space to consider the motivations causing such an emotional response and in that space the assets of humility (empathy, understanding, compromise, reflection and reconciliation) become available.
“When a problem is disturbing you, don't ask, "What should I do about it?" Ask, "What part of me is being disturbed by this?”
― Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
Only at an individual level can we let go of pride and be spared the ever escalating arms race of intellectual one-upmanship, rejection of empathy and eventual justification of violence as compromise is abandoned as impossible. As our society barrels forward into an unstable and unknown future in which there are no clear nor easy answers, we must make the effort to be aware of pride in ourselves and others and make the choice to cultivate humility in ourselves. Pride asserts that compromise is impossible, that one’s viewpoint is unequivocally correct and that conflict through domination is an inevitability. Empathy, growth and progress through reconciliation can only be achieved from a place of humility and it is each our individual responsibility to get there as no one can make that journey but ourselves.
“The proud person always wants to do the right thing, the great thing. But because he wants to do it in his own strength, he is fighting not with man, but with God.”
― Soren A. Kierkegaard
“I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.” - Socrates
Photo: Men Fighting with Cudgels by Francisco de Goya