Frequently in life I have found the troubled relationship of cores and peripheries to be the cause of many situations of unhappiness and many failures of justice and reciprocity. There is a clear asymmetry between those who fancy themselves to be at the center of gravity in institutions and even smaller areas and those who are clearly aware that they are in peripheral regions that no one revolves around. I would like to state at the outset that there is nothing inherently wrong with holding authority or offices or having insider knowledge and serving others based on a firm knowledge of institutions and how they work. What is wrong is the cultivation of the pride that results from being an insider and in looking down on others and not considering them to be worthy of the honors and respect that one demands for oneself as an insider. It is hard to be humble if we expect or even demand that others revolve around us and our concerns and respect us while we refuse to give them the same treatment in return.
It is easy for us to understand the corrosive tendencies of viewing ourselves to be the center of gravity when we look at the pretensions of those whose views of their own power and importance we consider to be laughable because the domains they consider themselves to be ruling over are so obviously unimportant. Yet we would do well to pay attention to the tenacity by which people hold on to their pretensions to rule over what are obviously trivial and meaningless domains, because in the grand scheme of things, our own pretensions, such as they are, for centrality within domains is similarly often equally ridiculous in the eyes of others. Yet a great deal of our own feeling of dignity and our own feeling of being honored results from seeing ourselves as being in a central position, and it hardly matters how important that domain is in the eyes of the world at large as long as those who are considered to be close to oneself respect that centrality and honor it. One does not need too much honor to live happily, but one cannot do without it at all.
It is this desire of being central in some fashion that feeds the vice of vanity. While in the Bible, vanity is usually combined with something being in vain or futile, and thus meaningless and ultimately worthless, vanity is often associated in popular understanding with a sense of pride and being puffed up as being beautiful or intelligent or important beyond what is factually accurate. It can be greatly difficult to distinguish between a healthy sense of dignity that comes from being appreciative of the blessings that God has given us, and recognizing the fruits of our hard work that have allowed us to rise through devoted service to institutions and a sense of arrogance that leads us to look down on others as well as the vain puffery that conflates the honor due to offices and positions with the honor and dignity that we are owed as people. Since much of the dignity that we receive in life comes from offices and not from the force of our personality or the widespread regard for our character as people, once we find ourselves to be at the center of gravity due to holding power and position, we become increasingly reluctant to give up that position at the center as time progresses and we become used to others revolving around us.
How do we deal with this? How do we faithfully execute those responsibilities that we are given without letting it get to our head and puff us up with pride and arrogance? How do we avoid the leavening that leads us to demand that others bend to our will and make all the effort of coming to us while we engage in no effort to meet others partway, much less halfway? How much value is it to be aware of the dangers that result from seeing ourselves at the center and seeing others as revolving around us, rather than recognizing that all of the pomp and circumstance and dignity of offices that we possess does not change who we are as people, but merely reveals what is inside of us to those around us even as we deceive ourselves as to our own character? Is awareness of our true natures and where we stand before God in being held accountable for any such power and influence that we possess sufficient to help us to avoid coming into judgment for abusing it by exploiting others?
I appreciate your thoughtful words–especially your questions–related to vanity and pride. I have written two posts about their opposite: humility. While they don’t directly address the matter of the pride that people in “offices” tend to have, they do address the universal tendency toward pride.
Here’s a link to the second post I wrote about what humility looks like; https://keithpetersenblog.com/2021/06/03/more-about-humility/ It also has a link to the first one. Take a look if you’re interested.
Thanks, I’ll take a look at those :D.