The other day, I got annoyed at myself because I accidentally wore my watch to yoga. It’s not that it’s uncomfortable, but not wearing it—in fact, willing myself not to glance at the wall clock in the yoga studio—is a point of pride. If I’m taking yoga classes to learn to stay in the moment, I shouldn’t focus on making the moment go faster, right?
A few days later, I met a friend for a camping trip. She was apologetic as she collected three or four bags of thrown-together gear, including her son’s superhero sleeping bag and flashlight. “Sorry,” she said. “Having the gear organized is usually a point of pride with me, but I just ran out of time this morning.”
The two events got me wondering about the whole concept of points of pride, which—by definition—are things that produce a sense of satisfaction. Yoga and camping are wonderful experiences. So why do we feel the need to detract points for wardrobe screw-ups or imperfect packing? Like many things pride-related, taking them seriously is just…stupid.
Pride isn’t a bad thing: Not checking the time, for example, might mean setting a healthy challenge for myself. Done right, it could make my yoga experience deeper, richer and more meaningful. Or it could just make me holier-than-thou.
Grocery carts offer another opportunity for me to check my motive. I pat myself on the back every time I return the cart to the corral in the parking lot. Everyone should, of course. It’s the courteous thing to do, and it would really suck if everyone left wagons hither and yon. But I confess, on some subzero days, when I was feeling mad at the world or sorry for myself or just hungry and exhausted, I have left my wagon uncorraled.
Why do we set these tiny hurdles for ourselves, these arbitrary bars of imaginary excellence? Is it so we can feel good that we pushed ourselves a little harder, to do a little better? That would be a good thing. But what if that’s not the motive or the result? I could be racking my cart just so I can feel a little smug about the lazy, inconsiderate so-and-so in the minivan next to me, who so did not put her wagon away. Why do I take so much delight in reading her bumper stickers, and learning that she and I do not vote the same way? I’m 53—that’s too many decades of creating these zany “There are two kinds of people in this world” internal conversations.
I’ve been reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh lately, the Zen Buddhist monk who writes so beautifully about meditation, peace and compassion—basically, about paying less attention to pinnacles of pride, and more to their opposite, moments of humility. There’s only kind of person in this world, and we’re all the same. We make mistakes, and occasionally disappoint ourselves and those around us. We live with the shame of not putting the cart back. Of being the clock-watcher in yoga. Or the one with too much baggage on the airplane. The idea is to cut everyone—ourselves included—a lot more slack than usual.
I’ve been experimenting in small ways, relaxing some of my usual standards. One night last week, I went to bed without doing the dishes. And you know what? I didn’t like it. Facing a sink full of unwashed plates is not how I want to wake up. So now I know: Doing the dishes before bed isn’t a stupid point of pride. It’s a habit that makes me happier.
It makes me like me better, without liking you any less.
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