Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Checked Baggage

Every now and then it is important for us all to unpack our baggage and look closely at what we are carrying around. I'm not talking about your backpack, briefcase, and purse type baggage, but personal baggage-the type that seems to get heavier and heavier even if you don't add anything to it. It would be nice if we all travelled lightly, but the fact is, we don't. And if you think that you are not carrying around baggage that is weighing you down, beware. Your baggage is about to be labeled with one of those fluorescent orange tags that says, "HEAVY" and you will have to pay extra to carry it along. Or, you can get rid of something that is in it so that the bag is not overweight. How heavy is your baggage?

It is not fair to pose such questions if I am not willing to answer them myself. I must admit that I have serious baggage when it comes to dealing with people's egos. I have spent all my life in academia. I have known many smart and talented people, some are even brilliant. I love to be around such people, people who are willing to share their knowledge and abilities. These are people who want you to feel the same joy and excitement for something as they do. They want to share everything they have with all those with whom they come in contact. As a sponge trying to absorb all that these people have to offer, I know that I will never achieve the level of competence that such people have, but nonetheless, they don't radiate a feeling of superiority, where they are the god, and thus to be worshipped, and everyone else is a peon whose sole purpose is to worship them.

Here is the question I find myself pondering: How do I differentiate arrogance and healthy self-confidence in others?

Self confidence, I believe, is a realistic opinion of one's own abilities, judgements, and power. One must also have a realistic perception of their personal weaknesses as well. Arrogance is an offensive display of superiority and self-importance. This is often accompanied by an UNrealistic opinion of one's own abilities, etc. I can't stand arrogance!

It is when we believe ourselves to be bigger, better, more importance, than someone else that arrogance rears its ugly head. We all have different talents and gifts, but we all have something to offer other human beings. As I said earlier, I have had many great teachers in school who have taught me wonderful things But, I have learned equally important things from animals, children, prisoners, strangers, homeless people, students in my class. I live life as a perpetual student, always wanting to learn and believing that there is so much out there still to learn. What a great way to walk the path of life! I hope I never get to a point where I truly believe I know it all. At this point, there really would be no purpose in living.

This is where humility comes in. Humility, a good Franciscan characteristic. What does it mean? Humility is a modest opinion of one's own importance. Modest? As I am using it here, modest means free from vanity, egotism, or pretentiousness. Ah yes. I like people who are humble. Remember Wilbur and Charlotte?

I know how I want to live, but that really doesn't help me deal with the arrogance I encounter in daily life. I am not sure what to do here. I have learned that screaming "arrogant asshole" really doesn't accomplish anything. Okay, there is that brief moment of pure bliss, but it is short lived.

Maybe if I get rid of my harmful baggage, I will have room to carry around the answer to dealing with this hang-up of mine.