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Pride dulls your senses and is a fraud to others

Pride dulls your senses and is a fraud to others Pride dulls your senses and is a fraud to others
Source: Kevin Le Moigne via Artstation
Ego Is the Enemy
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Ego Is the Enemy
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Aft eighteen, a rather triumphant Benjamin Franklin returned to visit Boston, the city he'd run away from seven months before. Full of pride and self-satisfaction, he had a new suit, a watch, and a pocketful of coins that he spread out and showed to everyone he ran into—including his older brother, whom he particularly hoped to impress. All posturing by a boy who was not much more than an employee in a print shop in Philadelphia. In a meeting with Cotton Mather, one of the town's most respected figures, and a former adversary, Franklin quickly illustrated just how ridiculously inflated his young ego had become. Chatting with Mather as they walked down a hallway, Mather suddenly admonished him, "Stoop! Stoop!" Too caught up in his performance, Franklin walked right into a low ceiling beam. Mather's response was perfect: "Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high," he said wryly. "Stoop, young man, stoop—as you go through this world—and you'll miss many hard thumps."

Christians believe that pride is a sin because it is a lie—it convinces people that they are better than they are, that they are better than God made them. Pride leads to arrogance and then away from humility and connection with their fellow man. You don't have to be Christian to see the wisdom in this. You need only to care about your career to understand that pride—even in real accomplishments—is a distraction and a deluder. "Whom the gods wish to destroy," Cyril Connolly fa-mously said, "they first call promising." Twenty-five hundred years before that, the elegiac poet Theognis wrote to his friend, "The first thing, Kurnos, which gods bestow on one they would annihilate, is pride." Yet we pick up this mantle on purpose!

Pride blunts the very instrument we need to own in order to succeed: our mind. Our ability to learn, to adapt, to be flexible, to build relationships, all of this is dulled by pride. Most dangerously, this tends to happen either early in life or in the process—when we're flushed with beginner's conceit. Only later do you realize that that bump on the head was the least of what was risked.

Pride takes a minor accomplishment and makes it feel like a major one. It smiles at our cleverness and genius, as though what we've exhibited was merely a hint of what ought to come. From the start, it drives a wedge between the possessor and reality, subtly and not so subtly changing her perceptions of what something is and what it isn't. It is these strong opinions, only loosely secured by fact or accomplishment, that send us careering toward delusion or worse. Pride and ego say:

  • I am an entrepreneur because I struck out on my own.
  • I am going to win because I am currently in the to win lead.
  •  I am a writer because I published something.
  • I am rich because I made some money.
  • I am special because I was chosen.
  • I am important because I think I should be.

At one time or another, we all indulge this sort of gratifying label making. Yet every culture seems to produce words of caution against it. Don't count your chickens before they hatch. Don't cook the sauce before catching the fish. The way to cook a rabbit is first to catch a rabbit. Game slaughtered by words cannot be skinned. Punching above your weight is how you get injured. Pride goeth before the fall.

Let's call that attitude what it is: fraud. If you're doing the work and putting in the time, you won't need to cheat, you won't need to overcompensate.

Pride is a masterful encroacher. John D. Rockefeller, as a young man, practiced a nightly conversation with himself. "Because you have got a start," he'd say aloud or write in his diary, "you think you are quite a merchant; look out or you will lose your head—go steady."

Early in his career, he'd had some success. He'd gotten a good job. He was saving money. He had a few investments. Considering his father had been a drunken swindler, this was no small feat. Rockefeller was on the right track. Understand-ably, a sort of self-satisfaction with his accomplishments—and the trajectory he was heading in—began to seep in. In a moment of frustration, he once shouted at a bank officer who refused to lend him money, "Some day I'll be the richest man in the world!"

Let's count Rockefeller as maybe the only man in the world to say that and then go on to become the richest man in the world. But for every one of him, there are a dozen more delusional assholes who said the exact same thing and genuinely believed it, and then came nowhere close—in part because their pride worked against them, and made other people hate them too.

All of this was why Rockefeller knew he needed to rein himself in and to privately manage his ego. Night after night he asked himself, "Are you going to be a fool? Are you going to let this money puff you up?" (However small it was.) "Keep your eyes open," he admonished himself. "Don't lose your balance."

As he later reflected, "I had a horror of the danger of arrogance. What a pitiful thing it is when a man lets a little temporary success spoil him, warp his judgment, and he forgets what he is!" It creates a sort of myopic, onanistic obsession that warps perspective, reality, truth, and the world around us. The childlike little prince in Saint-Exupery's famous story makes the same observation, lamenting that "vain men never hear anything but praise." That's exactly why we can't afford to have it as a translator.

Receive feedback, maintain hunger, and chart a proper course in life. Pride dulls these senses. Or in other cases, it tunes up other negative parts of ourselves: sensitivity, a persecution complex, the ability to make everything about us. As the famous conqueror and warrior Genghis Khan groomed his sons and generals to succeed him later in life, he repeatedly warned them, "If you can't swallow your pride, you can't lead." He told them that pride would be harder to subdue than a wild lion. He liked the analogy of a mountain. He would say, "Even the tallest mountains have animals that, when they stand on it, are higher than the mountain."

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