Alcatraz

               Pride makes us artificial. Humility makes us real.                           ~ Thomas Merton

I visited Alcatraz a few years ago. It’s a sad and haunted place. Alcatraz was designed to break people. The weight of it all still hangs in the air there.

My first job after college was as a Correctional Worker. It was a job for which I was exceptionally ill-suited. I was 21 and while my Psychology degree qualified me, my personality didn’t. I was inexperienced, naive, easily intimidated and phobicly adverse to confrontation.

Unfortunately, I’ve always interviewed well.

I worked in a residential facility for women that was a stop over between jail and integration into the community. Most residents came to us after serving prison time. The offenses ranged from multiple DUI’s to the killing of a Federal Marshall.

As the newest staff member, I was assigned most of the pat and strip searches. When it was time to do random drug testing, I was the one who watched while the residents used the restroom to make sure they didn’t dilute their UA’s.

Although Corrections was miles outside of my comfort zone, I wanted to make a difference. I know the women I worked with could sense my hesitancy and tentativeness. I was always polite but so uncomfortable. Years away from being broken, I didn’t know anything about humility.

I thought understanding the socioeconomic/environmental/cultural reasons for behavior would enable me to help/fix/cure. More than anything, I was intimidated and embarrassed – reactions which shifted the focus back onto me. Because I was embarrassed, I robbed the residents of yet another portion of their own dignity and worth.  I looked at people without seeing them and missed the opportunity to look into their eyes and pray that they might see some glimmer of God’s grace.

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.
Some days I can still feel pride creeping back up my neck. I’m hurt or fearful or insulted and I begin to rationalize instead of relate. I become insular instead of open. I catch myself putting my fake on.
Pride is its own prison.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

27 thoughts on “Alcatraz”

  1. Hi Debbie,

    I am in the learning stages of this lesson (hopefully nearing the end of it). I have learned much about letting my pride and my hurt go to focus on what others need, trying to see their pain and problems instead of my own. My pride and my instinct for retaliation would always take off ahead of me, making the situation worse. But I have learned to listen to the Lord’s prompting, to let go of my own self; and I can see the change in them that is in response to my understanding and compassion. Prayerfully, my change will show them God’s love through me and bring about a similar change in them.

    God bless.

    1. Well, hello Dru!
      I so appreciate your honesty here.
      I,too, am learning this lesson in stages.
      I expect I’ll be learning it all of my life.
      My prayer is for my heart to take the shape He had in mind when He made me! 😀
      Grace and peace to you!

  2. An excellent, deeply interesting post. I note the emboldened words at the end.

    Yes, pride. Pride is so before a fall. I was brought to my knees, to my knees and still refusing to seek help. Then the fall. My son saved my life.

    Regards to you, and I commend your insight.

    1. Hello Noeleen and welcome to TMG!
      Thank you for your kind words.
      I have very limited internet but was able to read a bit of your story.
      I rejoice with you in the fall that allowed you to truly stand!
      You’re quite right – we often kneel only to turn about and start off walking our own way again.
      There is a tenderness (perhaps better put, there CAN be a tenderness) in brokenness that allows humility to replace not just self-deceit, but also self-deprecation.
      Warm regards to you, as well,
      Debbie

  3. This story is so powerful! Thank you for the insight on your own pride. It makes me think how stinking my own pride is at times. Thank you for sharing and thank you for being so transparent. You will bless many more than me with your heart today. God bless.

    1. Steven –
      Well put, my friend.
      If “we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ” (2Corn. 2:15) then it’s time to work on the residual ‘stink’ of pride (speaking of myself here)! 😀

  4. Pride makes us artificial. Humility makes us real. (Thomas Merton)
    Your post makes me sit with what my paradigm would be in response to this thought.
    Perhaps…pride makes us marketable. Humility makes us invaluable.
    A profound conclusion for one seeking to become sustainably employed while remaining real.

    1. Hello angelnvj –
      You raise an interesting point.
      Do you think it would work to substitute confidence for pride?
      I when I was hiring people, if I sensed an individual had both confidence and humility, I knew I’d found someone extra special! That was a signal to me that they could and would work on their own and that they would remain open to learning and changing and growing.

      It takes a great deal of courage to be humble.

    1. Hey jel!
      Oh so very, very true.
      The fact that I catch myself – sometimes – tells me that there are still too many other times I’m completely blind to my own pride.

  5. Debbie– Wisdom floweth, here.

    “I was always polite but so uncomfortable. Years away from being broken, I didn’t know anything about humility.” Humility burns away that polite but uncomfortable feeling.

    As you say, our attitudes of pride or humility show us where our focus resides. Humility takes away the desire to be a know-it-all. We start to recognize the prideful ways, the prideful words, the prideful lift of the nose in the air.

    However, becoming real is as painful as it appears, maybe more so. Seeking humility isn’t a popular move. Suddenly we’re not so pretty anymore. Ask the Velveteen Rabbit.

    1. OK, so we’re going to PUMP up Debbie’s pride, eh Heidi!? We can’t help it: We’re fans and you and she are besties. For me, this struck a chord because of my reluctance to write my blog anymore (or my semi-intension to be on extended sabbatical) ? It is true when you BUST out the “real you”; frankly it’s a bit like being naked. That’s especially nasty at my age.

      It’s funny though: When i am on my own, when i am not comparing myself to others, or competing, or judging or feeling judged; just being myself, i have NO problem admitting that i REALLY don’t know much of anything (that matters anyway). I can’t solve world problems, I can’t be anything than the human that i am.

      I dunno, maybe pride is simply “fake self esteem”, or maybe it’s real self esteem. Hmm, now i’m mixing intellect with spirituality and psycho-babble.

      SUCH a good post. And, with that, there are MANY points i didn’t touch that are brilliant and helpful. Big hugs and kisses. Today is SA scarf day (after i leave work).

      1. Oh Mel –
        You make me smile!
        I’m a big fan of selective sharing. Not fake sharing, though, just selective sharing. I don’t feel compelled to lay myself open to everyone, but I feel compelled to be as honest as I can in what I do share, you know?

        I guess I would say there’s a difference between confidence and pride – or between a seeing ourselves as loved/beloved and simply seeing ourselves as superior.
        Pride, as referred to by Merton and Lewis etc… ,is arrogant.

        C.S. Lewis says that Pride is at the heart of sin and is by nature, competitive:
        “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something,
        only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that
        people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but
        they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or
        better looking than others. If every one else became equally
        rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be
        proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud, the
        pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of
        competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that
        Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not.” ~ Mere Christianity

        So while we might not identify with his examples (consciously) I think the point is well made.

        And if, in any moment, I somehow think it’s OK to see someone as in some way less important than me, I have given in to that mindset of comparison and competing and am indulging in a vice that will undermine any humility and greatly block me from extending grace.

        love to you in wrapped in a scarf in the Windy City!

    2. Heidi 😀

      I was thinking about the Velveteen Rabbit when I was writing this. Not so much when I was thinking about The Correctional Center – but certainly when I thought about my resistance to being real.
      When I finally became willing to TRY to be real, I thought it was going to kill me. In part because I was afraid of what others would think of me (oh yes, I know, PRIDE) and also because I would then have to see my ‘real’ self, which was harder yet.

      Thanks for the great opening for a great quote:

      “What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day… “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

      “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

      “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

      “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

      “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

      “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

      “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

      That Skin Horse was one smart cookie! 😀

      1. Thank you for taking the time to quote it. I was too lazy to find that but I do love reviewing it. I hope others enjoy it a fraction as much as I have!

    1. Susie –
      Oh yes, I agree!
      In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis calls Pride the “Great Sin”
      “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere
      fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil
      became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the
      complete anti-God state of mind.”
      I think he was right.

  6. Thank you for helping me pray tonight, gracious one . .to relate instead of rationalize. To drop pride like a hot potato as soon as I realize that is what is creeping up in me. Love you and God bless you!

    1. Debbie –
      You know, my friend, I find I don’t even know when pride has moved back in. All of a sudden a thought will take me aback and I’ll see it for what it is and think “Oh ya… no… don’t got there, even in your head, not even for a minute”.
      Those are the times I’m aware of it.
      Only God knows how often I simply excuse it because I’m blind to it.
      Love to you, too!

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