Saturday, March 20, 2010

Having Confidence is NOT the Same As Being Puffed Up

The fundamental point of my resolutions posts this month has been that charity is measured largely by how one views one's own abilities and knowledge - but, more precisely, that "vaunting" one's self and being "puffed up" are manifestations of one's view of one's self relative to others. In summary, the lack of charity in the manifetation of vaunting one's self and being puffed up is measured by how one raises himself above others - how one views her own abilities and/or knowledge in relation to others - and, again, more precisely, how one must devalue another's abilities and/or knowledge in order to value one's own more than is "correct".

The following, I believe, is self-evident, but I still believe it needs to be said:

It is very easy when thinking of this juxtaposition to conclude that self-confidence stands in opposition to charity - that if one is aware of and admits to a difference in the abilities and knowledge among people, and if part of that awareness and admission is that one's ability and/or understanding is greater than another's, then one is not being charitable. However, this stands in direct opposition to both common sense and one of the central themes of scripture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, the key is not a recognition of differences in ability and understanding, but rather it is not allowing that recognition to lead to condescension and condemnation.

In case anyone is tempted dispute the title of this post, simply stop and realize that the parable of the talents explicitly ends in the Lord rewarding those who recognized their abilities to multiply what they were given - and in the Lord taking what he had given from the one who feared his Lord and did not magnify what he had been given. It rarely is phrased this way, but the two who were rewarded had the ability, understanding and self-confidence necessary to do what they knew the Lord desired of them; he who was not rewarded lacked the ability and understanding to do so - perhaps due directly to a lack of self-confidence, manifested in fear.

There is nothing wrong with me admitting and openly stating that I have been blessed with a natural ability to understand mathematical concepts - or to see how various pieces of a puzzle fit together (both physical puzzles and conceptual puzzles) - or to find joy in simple things - or to see the good in others. Those are personal strengths, and it would be dishonest or disingenuous to state otherwise - and, at the very least, I would be naive and misguided to think that all share those strengths equally. It is not the recognition of my own strengths that constitutes being puffed up and vaunting of myself; it is the over-valuing and/or over-estimation of my own strengths and the under-valuing and/or under-estimation of others' strengths on which Paul focuses in I Cornithians 13.

Part of the message of the Sermon on the Mount, on which I focused for two years, is the challenge to put conscious effort into understanding those characteristics that comprise completion, wholeness and full development - and to pursue acquiring them in order to glorify God. That entire process requires a level of confidence - and confidence is another way to phrase faith and hope. Of course, ultimate confidence in this process is pointed toward God, but one of the uniquely empowering aspects of Mormonism is the addition of an element of confidence in our own status as children of God - confidence that humans really are "worthy" of "the grace that so fully he proffers us" (based simply on our shared heritage of sons and daughters of divinity, not based on "individual worth" as distinguished from others' worth).

There is nothing noble, in my opinion, in false modesty or self-deprication. Those things are not the same as meekness and humility. The former are facades; the latter are internal characteristics. The former are deceptive; the latter simply are descriptive. In that light, I believe it is much better to offer a simple, sincere "Thank you" when complimented than to deflect honest expressions with canned phrases that reject the sincerity of others' words - thus devaluing their praise. False modesty, as a way to avoid openly vaunting one's self, only masks the puffiness that exists hidden inside and is, therefore, hypocrisy.

Postscript: I have felt the need to add one "disclaimer" - and it is an important one, I believe:

There is a fine line between proper and realistic self-confidence and reckless self-confidence. The latter (recklessness) often appears in the religious as a belief that the Lord will not let anything bad happen to you - that you can do anything without concern for the potential consequences - that you deserve to have good things happen to you and that nothing is an un-necessary risk.

There is realistically being aware of one's strengths AND weaknesses, and there is being aware of one's strengths and blind to one's weaknesses - and there is being aware of one's strengths and blind to others' weaknesses (which is a weakness, in and of itself). I am not advocating blind and/or all-encompassing confidence in this post. Even Ammon gloried "in the Lord" - and humans have a tendency to think the Lord will help them get whatever THEY want, rather than what HE wants to accomplish through them.


Paul said...

Papa D,

Interesting thoughts, and I agree. I remember a sacrament meeting talk years ago (I was still a youth, but the dinosaurs had disappeared by then) and a brother spoke about Self Esteem. My mother was really impressed by his talk and spoke about it all the way home (a 25 minute drive). So either the talk or my mother's discussion impressed on me the value of self esteem for church members, and how having self esteem (and in a related way, self confidence) was not the same as being proud and / or boastful.

A great lesson to be learned. Thanks for the reminder.

Papa D said...

It's interesting what we remember from years ago.

Just so you know, Paul, I added a postscript. It has been on my mind since last night when I wrote the post.

Molly said...

In Screwtape Letters, Screwtape says true humility is not an pretty woman trying to believe she is ugly or a clever man smart (some sexism here, but I give him a pass for when it was written and that he was a bachelor for so long). True humility is building the best cathedral in the world and knowing it is the best, and rejoicing in that fact the same as if someone else had built it. I love C.S. Lewis.