You know, I don’t actually have a problem with pride. I know, as Jews we are commanded to be humble, to remember that all the good things we have and all the good things we do come from God, and that’s what it is all about, and not to focus so much on ourselves. Nevertheless, I think there’s a lot to be said for pride, and the glow it can bring of a task well accomplished. It’s our way of giving ourselves the positive feedback and encouragement that we need and deserve. It’s lovely. Oh, it can be taken to extremes, but it doesn’t have to be. Well-guided pride is a tool that can help.
When things aren’t going well, that same pride can be used to work just a bit harder, to get a little more done. It can help us overcome obstacles and push through seemingly unsolvable problems. It’s again fairly useful. However, it’s when it, in itself, becomes an obstacle to dealing with a difficult situation that needs to be examined. And sometimes, it does.
Embarrassment is something everyone deals with, and it can be a serious problem. It can create distance from one person to the next as more and more topics become too embarrassing to mention. It can waste our time and resources (no? never spent time going from one place to another looking for somewhere you won’t be seen while you do that embarrassing thing?) It can keep us from doing activities we enjoy or ones we might enjoy because we’re too embarrassed to be seen doing something so poorly. It can keep us for asking for help, when we need it, even if that help is medical. It’s stupid and it’s harmful, and it’s a trap I fall into far too often.
I like positive feedback, and I want to be seen a certain way – accomplished, successful, kind, etc. I don’t want to be seen as weak and needy, and that leads to that embarrassment when I am feeling weak and needy that keeps me from asking for help. If I don’t show anyone how messed up this mess really is, no one need know, right? They can keep thinking of me as a super-fantastic mega-successful always-patient individual. I like that. So, I don’t ask for help, I get more and more frantic, and I wonder nothing is working.
Of course, different areas cause embarrassment to varying amounts for different people, both on a cultural and personal level. While for one person, any topics about body or physical intimacy are embarrassing, for another it’s stuff connected to work and money that makes them blush. There are cultural aspects to this as well. I know that the level of pride and privacy, embarrassment and distance is different in certain cultures. The advantage of these differences is that it’s easy for me to see when someone else is being ridiculous, letting her embarrassment get in the way of asking for help that she really needs.
It is not a minor problem. It can cause break-ups when two loving people are just too embarrassed to admit they’re wrong and ask for forgiveness or another chance or even some loving time together. It can cause one to lose out on a wonderful job because one is too embarrassed to apply. It can cause a misdiagnosis – I once heard someone talk about the number of times embarrassment has led to actual death, because people would rather suffer huge amounts of pain than be embarrassed in front of their doctor.
Breaking through pride – setting it aside enough to ask for help – is still not easy. Because pride does have benefits, embarrassment is real, and no amount of wishing it away will actually make it disappear. It takes courage and strength to open oneself up, to take that risk, to ask for help. It’s so worthwhile, though. So many of us are waiting to be asked, hoping that we can help out with whatever difficulties arise. When it happens, especially in a difficult, embarrassing situation, the request can be a bridge that connects two people, and like any bridge, helps us get across problems and obstacles.
There’s a tenderness and vulnerability that comes from that asking, and a responsibility on each and every one of us to respond with kindness and care. It doesn’t matter how minor the request, puncturing through embarrassment and replacing it with sharing and communication is worth it. There are many places where it’s good to be risk averse – why risk when you can see the problem coming, can take proper precautions, can avoid it? This is a place where the risk is a good one. Asking someone else for help in an embarrassing situation is risky – the other person may laugh, may say no, may be annoyed at assumed closeness – but it’s also beautiful. This is a place to take the risk.
I pride myself on being reasonably good about this one (yes, that was on purpose). I think I’m rarely embarrassed. I ask for help often and accept help cheerfully. Yet still, there are areas where I could do better. I get embarrassed with kids and admitting mistakes to them, for example, even when it may be useful to do so. I am more likely to be embarrassed with people who have criticized something I do in the past. Embarrassment exists for me too. I know better, though. It’s one of the character traits that I work to improve, year after year, Elul after Elul. I refuse to die of embarrassment. I’d rather ask for the help I need, even if it does make me blush.