A few years ago there was an interesting story out of Kenya. Millions of people in that country were starving due to a recent drought. Seeing so many hungry children was something that deeply affected a young lady visiting there from New Zealand. She went back home and tried to figure out a way to get some food to those children in the fastest possible way. One of her friends worked for the Mighty Mix dog food company and offered to immediately send 6,000 packs of dog food mixture to Kenya to help out.
Before you all think “ewww” it should be noted that this was human standard dog food which would provide nutritional, sustainable meals for the children made out of ingredients that the children were used to eating. Of course, sending dog food to starving children still sounds kind of nasty. But I guess it was the most immediate solution to a problem that required an immediate solution.
Anyway, the government of Kenya was very insulted by this offer saying it was culturally unacceptable. Calling someone a dog in Kenya is the worst thing you could do – they don’t even keep dogs as pets there apparantly.
So they refused the food and the drought continued and people and children and livestock died.
I was reminded of this the other night when I ran into my neighbour, who, as I may have mentioned before is having issues with her disability pension because she had the audacity to take on a little part-time work (the income from which she faithfully reported) in order to try and dig herself out of the abject poverty the disability pension has been keeping her for years. So, anyway they cut her off completely because they figured if she could earn some money she didn’t need disability anymore. She’s been fighting it for a couple of months now.
So, as I said, I ran into her the other day and I asked how the battle was going and she said, “Slowly, I’ve been living on nothing but toast for the last couple of weeks. I hope it gets resolved soon.”
Horrified, I asked her why her kids weren’t helping her out – she has four grown kids who all live nearby and are all working. She staunchly declared that she would never, ever, ever ask her kids for help. She did not want to burden them with her problems.
I gave her hell for being so foolish. I told her how very angry I would be with my mother if for some reason she was having a hard time and didn’t ask me for help. “What if you get sick?” I said. “Then you’ll be even more of a burden.”
Then I went home and collected a couple of bags of groceries, which I pretty much had to force her to accept. “I’m not one of those people who is looking for handouts!” she wailed.” Then I reminded her that she helps me all the time by looking after Bazel when we’re away, which shut her up long enough for me to foist the groceries on her and make my escape.
Pride can be a good and positive thing. If you take pride in things like your work or your appearance or your home, you put effort in making sure it’s the best it can be. It makes you feel good to have accomplished something that’s respected or admired by others.
On the other side of the coin there is pride that does not serve you well. Pride that is too often confused with self-respect. Of course most people don’t want to have to depend on others for help. Most people want to be able to make their own way in the world; support themselves; look after themselves. And when you’re already in a position of being dependant on a social system, whether it’s because you’re on welfare or disability or if you’re elderly and can’t do without homecare or regular nursing care – you are going to hang on to as much independence as you possibly can, even if it’s to your detriment.
Why do we do this?
I’m pretty self-sufficient — except when it comes to transportation. I get around pretty well with public transit or walking or sometimes taxis, but there are times when none of those are very feasible or are extremely inconvenient or expensive. People with cars often offer me rides and if it seems to me to not be too much of an inconvenience for them, I will accept the ride – but it makes me feel….what? Humbled? Beholden?
Because during and after the ride I’m always try to think of some way of re-paying that favour. And I won’t feel right about it until I feel I’ve somehow balanced the scales.
The absolute worst case of this was during the transit strike a couple of winters ago when I was completely dependant on other people to get me to and from work. By about the second week of this I was actually physically ill from constantly having to rely on others.
And then there’s that whole feeling of presumptuousness that you want to avoid — I hope they don’t think I take it for granted that they’re driving me around. And you never know if they’re offering the help because they feel they have to or feel sorry for you and are hoping you’ll turn them down.
Ya, it gets to be a crazy head mess.
Especially because if I do a favour for someone, it’s because I want to help. I certainly don’t expect that to be repaid. Why can’t I just assume that other people think and feel the same way? If someone in need asks me for a favour I consider that a compliment and am honoured to provide whatever help I can.
Okay, I’m not talking about a person who is forever asking for stuff or has no interest in being independent and is happy to let everyone else take care of them. And there are plenty of people who just presume that if you’re in any way better off than them that you owe them something. But that’s a whole other ball of wax.
Anyway, people do a lot of crazy, harmful things in the name of pride — in their relationships, for instance. They refuse to be the first to apologize because they don’t want the other person to have the “upper hand”. They won’t forgive because forgiveness is equated with loss of pride or self-respect. They won’t ask for support because “if their partner really loved them they would know what they needed.”
At work we often put up with not being treated well or being passed over for promotion because we’re too proud to ask for what we want – what we feel we deserve. We figure if management is too blind to our excellent qualities and doesn’t value us, then we’re not going to humiliate ourselves by trying to set them straight
But pride is not the same thing as self-respect, I think. When you’re doing something because it’s good for you and serves you well – that’s self-respect. If you’re doing something just to save face or because you “won’t give in” or because “you don’t want them to win” and this attitude/behaviour is harming you in some way – that’s misplaced pride. There’s no self-respect in that. It’s one of those cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face type of things.
There are all sorts of ways we let this pride become an obstacle in our lives, isn’t there? Is there an obstacle in your life that you can’t get by because your “pride” won’t let you? How do we overcome something like that? How do we find a balance between maintaining true self-respect and still being able to ask for or accept assistance when we need it? Have you mastered it?