They say it comes before a fall and in biblical terms that’s right. Pride, the Original Sin, (not sex as a lot of people believe), came before the Fall, which was the loss of God’s grace and ultimately the casting out of heaven for Lucifer and his rogue angels, and casting out of paradise for the humans. There are lessons in there for everyone, and yet I’ve always been drawn to the heroic in people; those who stand up against all the odds and fail.
When studying for my first degree I fell in love with Macbeth and Milton’s Satan. There’s just something about Macbeth at the end, when he realizes he’s been had by the witches and that all his efforts to avoid the prophesies have just made it come true. Birnham Wood is coming to Dunsinane. He knows he’s going to lose but he doesn’t run away or try to hide. He buckles himself up in his armour and proclaims “I’ll die with harness on my back.” Then, when he finally faces Malcolm, he tells Malcolm he doesn’t want to fight because he’s “too steeped in the blood of thine already”. Believing he can’t be killed by anyone born of a woman, he doesn’t want to kill Malcolm. And we all know what happens then. But it’s the ‘hero’ of the battlefield, the one who the men and Duncan adored, that seems to shine again in his last moments. Not the fatally flawed over-reacher whose ambition leads him down the path to his own destruction.
And who can read Satan’s blank verse and not swoon at his beauty and sensuous majesty? As the poem progresses he becomes more and more tarnished and corrupted, less attractive, more in keeping with an accepted view of him. But in the beginning he’s ‘the brightest star in heaven’ and even God is in love with him. It is obviously Milton’s vision and portrayal of him we fall in love with, and his jealous sense of betrayal, like that of Macbeth, is one I understand only too well. Of course, these are literary constructs, but the fact that I can identify so closely with the characters and have soft spots for them show how powerful good literature is. Like Stephen King said:
‘Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie’
But there’s a subtle difference between having pride and being proud, which I associate with arrogance. I don’t like arrogant people who have turned their pride into narcissism, believing themselves better than others, but I do admire someone who takes pride in achievements, theirs as well as others’. I’m proud of my children and have no problem with someone else being a proud parent, unless pride in their offspring creates problems where the children are reared like demi-gods and believe they are owed something by the universe and treat others at best with indifference, at worst, badly.
Self-confidence cannot thrive without some kind of self-belief and pride in oneself, but over-confidence and a belief that you are able to do things you can’t can also have devastating effects. I once had to employ a youth worker who conned people at his interview into believing he was the perfect person for the job. I disagreed with their choice but was a lone voice. What we didn’t find out till later was that his girlfriend, who was a careers officer, had filled in all his forms and created his portfolio. He was dyslexic, disorganized, unable to work to deadlines or manage his workload, but when his mistakes were pointed out he played the disability/bullying card. The problem than became mine and it took a year to get rid of him.
I know the problem is basically one about honesty, but it’s also about him believing he could do the job when clearly he couldn’t and his arrogance when discrepancies were pointed out to him. Had he owned his disability right from the start I could have put support systems in place to help him adjust to the demands of the job. Instead, not only did he neglect to do the job for which he was being paid, he also mucked up all the admin systems that took an age to sort out after he’d gone. And he still believed he’d done a good job and had done us all a big favour by deigning to work for us in the first place.
So where am I going with this? Well, I’ve been ill again for the last couple of days. Nothing serious, but enough to stop me being able to do anything other than sleep or lie on the settee watching TV. One of the things that happens when I stop ‘doing’ is that the other ‘stuff’ surfaces. All that unresolved muck that lies in the bottom of the barrel and never really gets a good clean out. I’ve been quite emotional, so my tear ducts have had a good sluicing, but I’ve also had to look at the issue of my aloneness.
I pride myself in being resourceful and resilient, that I live alone through choice and that I’ve done such a good job with raising my children that they don’t need me anymore. Now all that may be true, but it’s quite an arrogant stance to take, which denies my need for others. Because there is no-one there I have to deal with my illnesses alone and I do, most of the time. Because my romantic relationships have failed I’ve chosen to live alone and I’m still alone because I’ve not met anyone who’s made me want to change my mind. Being ill in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone and can’t speak the language isn’t a pleasant experience. But because it’s happened to me on numerous occasions I know what to do and get on with it. Which I think is how I live my life – I just get on with it. There’s no point in regretting anything or wanting what I don’t have, so I make the most of what I do have, resolve not to make the same mistakes and move on. And take a perverse sense of pride in being able to so.
Sometimes, in my dark times, when it’s all too hard and I feel I’ve nothing else to fight with to get out of the blackness, pride is what has got me through. I remember all the people I love who will be affected by my demise and who I feel I will have let down. That’s when I pull myself up by my bootlaces and seek help. I used to think that asking for help was being weak but I’ve learnt
‘If you can’t change your situation, change your attitude’
Pride can still be a stumbling block for me, but I do believe that if life deals you a dodgy hand you have three choices – carry on with the game even though you risk losing everything, stick, or fold. Pride has always made me carry on with the game because sticking and playing safe is not an achievement, nor is folding and throwing in the cards. Life may not be all about achievement, but at those times you feel worthless, it’s something to hang on to and be proud of. And sometimes pride is all I’ve got to keep me breathing, to get me through to the next day.
And save me from that long fall.