The Difficult Messy Work of Accountability, Humility, and Confronting Pride

rattlemymilkbonez asked a question:

How does one deal with pride and self-loathing? I’d say my mood is pretty healthy most of the time, but when someone else points out when I do the wrong thing, I start hurting and feeling angry with myself because I hate making mistakes more than anything. Which seems silly, I guess, since we all fall short of the glory of God.

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this, too. I’ve learned over and over that no one naturally does well with accountability and self-confrontation. It’s our natural instinct to preserve an idea about ourselves, to scratch for every justification to believe we are right and good. The only other direction besides pride is, as you said, self-loathing, or self-condemnation and despair, and we seem to fluctuate between these two extremes: pride or despair.

In my hospital chaplaincy education, we actually have an assigned group of five people, and we get together several times a week to talk about how we’re doing and to work on “growing edges.” These are very, very tough conversations. We call each other out. We hold each other accountable. We might say, “So last week I noticed you did this thing that really bothered me. Can you say more about that?”

We have a policy to be curious and not judgmental—but there are always at least one or two people in the group that absolutely cannot handle this process. They flip out or melt down, or in one case, give everyone the middle finger and quit. Even the “well-adjusted” chaplains squirm in their seats and try to deflect and rationalize instead of self-examine.

It’s really, really difficult to confront the truth about yourself because we all have some ugliness inside, and it’s unbearably painful to see the selfishness and emptiness which we so desperately cover. It’s hard to give so much trust to another person who can dig into your heart with a scalpel and reveal that there are real problems inside.

But we also need this. We do need to give our trust to at least one or two people to say, “Please tell me graciously and patiently what I need to work on sometimes.” We need to give permission for people to call us out, or we will never grow, and instead isolate ourselves in an ivory tower of self-reflexive lies.

(And no, that doesn’t mean some random online blogger gets to self-elect to do this to you. I believe that God has placed specific people around you, near you, that are trustworthy and have the right blend of tenderness and tough precision. I can almost guarantee that he or she won’t be some troll or gate-keeper or shrill doctrinal parole officer.)

You see, everyone wants this for everyone else but themselves. That’s why when you listen to a sermon or a TED Talk, you think, “If only my mom could hear this” or “I wish my boyfriend was here.” We’re always thinking of the specks in other peoples’ eyes instead of the plank in our own. We lack so much self-awareness that we also lack the awareness of our own lack of self-awareness.

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