Pride, it's a tricky thing!

November 30, 2019 — 4 Comments

America has just celebrated Thanksgiving, an important day in my adopted land. It is a day wherein the country is a moving mass as people try to get home, often battling inclement weather, to celebrate the pilgrim’s first harvest.

I have enjoyed every national or festival day in whichever country I have happened to be living. All twelve of them. From Loi Krathong in Thailand to Chinese New Year in Singapore to the Ganzenhoedster Festival in the small Dutch town of Coevorden. Or maybe Deepavali in Malaysia. And don’t let’s forget Hogmany in Scotland. I admire the national pride that keeps these traditions alive.

I name these countries, these festivals, as a precursor to this piece. Not only have I lived in many countries, I have also been employed by multinational corporations to help employees and their families understand the idiosyncrasies prevalent in countries in which they might conduct business, or indeed live. 

In every place I have been fortunate enough to call home, whether for a year or a number of years, I have made an effort to learn a little of the language, to understand and recognise, if not always embrace, the culture. And to engage in local activities, whether as a foot soldier or a board member. 

My peripatetic life began at a month old which, in essence, means I have spent my life ‘not quite fitting in’. It’s not something that has ever concerned me, as I consider it a privilege to be a guest in another country and do my best to be respectful of that culture.

And so the past few days, having been accused of cultural insensitivity, have been spent wondering “what could I have done better?”. The details are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how carefully I worded the email that started the firestorm. It doesn’t matter that the recipient found issue with subjects not addressed in that letter. It doesn’t matter that I apparently provoke “a bad taste in my (his) tongue”. What matters is that somehow, and I have searched my words, conscience and intent, I have caused great offence. Enough to make the man write, “I will not allow someone from else where come to my homeland and talk to me however they would like, I am proud Crucian and I stand with pride for what I do in my community.

That is the sentence that rankles. No, actually it hurts. Because I do not know how this chap got to that place of intense dislike from my actions or, indeed, my words.

Then I started thinking about words like identity, ego, pride – all of which, if used with a dose of reality, are important words for defining who we are. It’s when the dosage gets out of the kilter that things go pear-shaped. It can happen with tyrants of tin-pot regimes, wannabe dictators of western countries, and lesser mortals. The common denominator being that all have lost the ability to recognise the world works best when we are able to feel humility, to admit to mistakes, to accept guidance. It is these people who manufacture threats from without their immediate sphere of influence. Their hubris becomes a crutch behind which they cover inadequacy, incompetency and sometimes a lack of intellect. And every culture is littered with those whose ego is easily dented. 

As I consider the past few days, and give thanks for the island on which I spend most of my time, I reflect on Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If. He too was an expatriate, having grown up in India before returning to England then emigrating to America. 

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

The words might appear dated but they resonant as I try and master my anger and disappointment. If I can do that, I shall be on my way to being a stronger woman.

I shall also contemplate Kipling’s other masterpiece, The Jungle Book. Because juggling different cultures and sensitivities can make it feel it is a jungle out there. But maybe, if I work hard enough, next Thanksgiving I can truly focus on what makes me thankful for being on this beautiful island.

4 responses to Pride, it's a tricky thing!

  1. 

    I can see you’ve been engaged in reflection. Writing about it aids the reflection, and sharing that writing blesses the reader.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  2. 

    Such an honest and inspiring piece! Oh, have I been there so many times. Thank you for sharing your own insights and reflection, and also that Rudyard’s great poem. I might have to make it part of my morning meditation.

    Like

  3. 
    Anne Louise OConnell November 30, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Hi Apple, I can feel your pain! There’s no greater and deeper hurt than when someone accuses you of something you believe, to the depths of your being, is the very polar opposite of who you are and for what you stand. It sounds as though it’s the other person who needs to do some soul-searching, not you!

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  4. 

    Apple Dear, I am aware of the situation that inspired this blog. Be assured that you did nothing that was culturally insensitive. I think the problem can be summed up thus: the person who took offense is probably is a bit what we call “touchy”. Overly sensitive to perceived slights.

    But there is a larger problem at play here – and it IS culturally based, alas! I would characterize it as the “bahn’ya” mentality. Being “born” a native Virgin Islander, many locals believe, confers upon them special privilege. Most of all it means that they feel they are above being “edited” or enlightened in any way by an “outsider”, i.e. any one not “born here”. This attitude can be taken to extremes – for example – not so many years ago, a group of locals wanted to restrict the status of citizen of the Virgin Islands to people whose grand parents were “barn ‘ya” They were sorely disappointed when then Governor de Jongh declared it unconstitutional and would not take it into consideration.

    Here is an even worse example , among a number of others i have heard about – this one is especially egregious because it directly impacted the welfare of the mothers and children of the V.I.: A non-native VI nurse asked to attend a conference stateside to learn more about neo-natal care. She met with resistance but finally went using her own resources, I believe. What is astounding is that when she got back and wanted to introduce some new practices that she learned at the conference , she was told that they didn’t need some “outsider” telling them how to do things.

    This same hospital basically ran off a group of consultants for a company that evaluates hospitals for accreditation. They wanted to introduce “best practices” for small community hospitals and help the hospital with its accreditation issues. They met with fierce resistance to any changes . They finally left after finding dead chickens on the hoods of their cars. I am not making this up!

    Of course it is not all Virgin Islanders who take resentment towards outsiders to such extremes, but that unfortunate attitude was certainly underlying the unjustified and ill-considered reaction of the “aggrieved”. So instead of being appreciative of your taking the trouble to edit his writing – he was offended and Heaven only knows we can all use an editor. Judging by the writing in his message he is no exception.

    So i would not let one “touchy” individual drive you away from helping an organization whose very mission is to bridge cultural divides and bring people together. There is an irony there. Maybe chalk up the downright rudeness of this individual to the callowness of youth and hope that someday he will be mature enough to realize that there is nothing to gain by dredging up unrelated past disappointments and flinging them in the face of someone who has no malignant intentions whatever, conscious or unconscious. Try not to take it personally! It should not be a matter of wounded pride since you did nothing wrong. There is no dealing with wriong-headed thinking. Try to let it go. You can be sure that the offended person will not be asked to do anything for the organization EVER again!

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