Today my wife and I had a disagreement. This happens in marriage, and can be either an opportunity or a setback. Often, because of our pride, it turns into a setback. But, if we’ll humble ourselves and pursue effective communication, it can always be an opportunity. This particular topic, which will eventually be revealed in one of these missives, will have a major effect on our future. On one hand, I was right and knew it. On the other, she had a point that I was having a hard time grasping. I had greater knowledge and understanding of the situation as a whole. But she saw one aspect of it that I hadn’t really grasped yet. But, in our pride, we were missing the point that the other was making. So, we did our little dance, getting somewhat exasperated in the process, and parted ways not really seeing eye to eye.
Pride comes before the fall. We’ve all heard this proverb before. But do we grasp the truth of it? The reality is that we need to strive to make this jewel permeate our being.
Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.
Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Eventually I realized what I had been missing. This gave me the opportunity to let her know that I was thinking about what she had said. Unbeknownst to me, she was thinking too. And she realized that she was missing the point I was making. Of course, if we had humbled ourselves in the first place, we could have avoided the grief. But we couldn’t see past our own perspectives, and so made the challenge a debacle until we were graced with enough wisdom to recognize that neither of us had a monopoly on the truth.
Of course, there are different aspects of pride. I’m proud of my sons for working hard to be good husbands and fathers. I can see them grow in character and be pleased. We step back and enjoy the fruit of our labor, which holds a certain aspect of pride in a job well done. These are not vain. They are not puffed up. They are recognition of blessings and gratitude for what we have.
But what sort of pride are we talking about that enslaves us? This is what we need to look out for.
Here’s an example. The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who trades in FOREX. I know very little about FOREX, so he was showing me some of how it works. Frankly, the leverage spooks me. But, on the other hand, my friend knows little about stock options. I was telling him that I think it would be a good time to buy some call options on SLV, since it would give the investor leverage if silver increases within the contract time. He agreed that silver will increase dramatically, and soon. But he did not understand how options work.
At this point he had two choices. He’s older than I am. He has more experience in the financial markets than I do. His economics education is more extensive than mine. So, it would stand to reason that he would understand options. And it would further stand to reason that he would know more than I do. For many of us, the last thing we would do is admit that someone less knowledgeable in our field could actually teach us something. You know what my friend did? He asked questions. He tried to understand. And, from his questions, it became apparent that, though he knew options increased leverage, he really had very little knowledge in how they function. His questions were based on his understanding of FOREX.
If he had been proud then there are a couple of things that might have happened. One, he would have just gone on in the discussion as if he understood, rendering our discussion somewhat superfluous. It would have lost its relational aspect because he would have denigrated our communication with his pride. Furthermore, he would have gone on in ignorance. Of course, he could have looked it up while we were talking, and bluffed his way through… maybe. Or, he could have later studied it, so he could understand what I had said. But, rather than put up a facade, he asked pertinent questions and blessed me with the opportunity to teach him something.
Slavery to pride, which, at least in some ways, enslaves us to ignorance, tends to permeate our lives. In fact, our school systems now promote pride by rewarding children for failing. In so many areas of life we are encouraged in our irresponsibility. Even bankers are rewarded for what should destroy the businesses they’re responsible for. If politicians really did what was best for the country, as a whole, they’d be voted out of office. All of this feeds upon our pride. And it gives us the delusion that we are more successful than we really are. We are fooled into thinking that we’re actually quite responsible. Can you see how insidious such a lie can be?
Here’s an example I faced recently. A child was clearly uninterested while being fed in his highchair. The mother let him down. At this point he motioned that he wanted food (being unable to speak yet). She then handed him something to eat, which he promptly walked around with, eating and dropping pieces as he went. While, in some sense, that’s the mother’s prerogative. On the other hand, she’s teaching him that he can have things his way, even if it means more work for her. It also teaches him poor eating habits, but that’s a secondary concern. So, because this young lady and child are dear to my heart, I asked her if she had considered the repercussions of what had just happened.
Her response was unmistakable. She resented that I, a man who’s parented children and am about twice her age, might suggest that there was any way she could be a better parent. She took it personally, in her pride, rather than considering that there might be an opportunity to learn and become a better parent. Now, she could have listened humbly and decided that the repercussions were acceptable. She might even disagree with the assessment I was offering. But, in her pride, she never even considered the opportunity offered her. She had been given an opportunity to learn. But, because of pride, she was insulted and is convinced that she somehow knows everything she needs to know about parenting.
We can do this in just about every area of our lives. It’s not that what others have to offer is necessarily better. But what is our response when confronted with a claim that we could be doing something better? In fact, if we are confronted by someone that may have the audacity to say we’re doing something wrong, we usually bow up in our proud defiance, protecting our pathetic egos from such abuse. In this, we embrace ignorance, sacrificing growth in knowledge on the altar of self-esteem. The result is a pseudo-maturity that we think fools others, but actually turns out to be a willful pursuit of ignorance.
How does this fit our current series? This applies to every aspect of our lives. We always have something to learn. And sometimes we can learn the greatest lessons from the greenest novices. There’s an old story that illustrates this perfectly.
A large eighteen wheeler had gotten lodged under a bridge. Thinking his clearance was more than enough to pass through without issue, he hadn’t even slowed down as he approached the underpass. The result was that the truck just wouldn’t move.
Some of the leadership of the trucking company came out to assess the situation. The police showed up. All sorts of brains and brass began trying different things to get the truck out from under the bridge. But it was stuck fast, refusing to give up even an inch.
All of a sudden a little girl came up to one of the men to ask him a question. Of course, he was busy and didn’t listen to her at first. But, seeing that she was insistent, he finally gave her his attention, asking what it was that she needed. The little girl asked simply, and innocently, “Why don’t you just let the air out of the tires?”
As the story goes, all the bigwigs were humbled by the simplicity of this little girl as they let the air out of the tires, freeing the truck from its entrapment. Is the story true? I really don’t know. But it does illustrate our point. Whether it’s in finances, economics, politics or religion, none of us has all the answers. But, through various sources, we all have access to answers. Let us be humble in our pursuit of truth. Let us reflect when contradicted. Let us be approachable and whimsical so that others are encouraged to help us in areas we lack knowledge. This has been central to our recent pursuit of understanding Keynesianism. And it will be central to our future as we continue to study economics.
All of the areas mentioned above involved some subjectivity, except one. In economics, if you’ve followed Another Joe much, you’ll know that I would turn to Mises or other teachers of the Austrian school as my source of truth. I’m convinced they’ll offer the best answers, or at least teach me how to think through the challenges from the most responsible perspective. We have our favorite financial gurus. We have perspectives on politics that we are convinced are best.
But, when it comes to religion, there is only one reliable source of truth. Religion is not about men. It’s about God. And God has chosen to reveal himself in two ways. The first is in creation. The second is in Scripture, the Bible. We see His handiwork in the heavens and earth. And we learn to know Him and grow in our relationship to Him as He has revealed himself in the Bible. Let us be humble in this as well, striving to know God as He is, rather than how we, or man, would make Him out to be.