If you are like me, one of your great struggles is an abiding self-consciousness that you are on the outside looking in: an uninvited and unwanted guest at a private party. To varying degrees, we all feel like an outsider. In that sense, we are all insiders. We are all inside the club of people who feel like outsiders. This knowledge alone is some comfort for the abiding inferiority complex that dogs each one of us. We are never nearly so outside as we think; when we feel most outside, we are just like everyone else.
Yet, the feeling of being on the fringe, an unwelcome guest, is one of the most painful realities of our internal lives. We see a group of people laughing, and wish desperately to be among them. We see -- at work or school -- a clique of close friends, and long to be invited to their reveries. We hear about various social gatherings, and note with distress, that we are not included.
This sense of being on the outside can, if we are not careful, come to dominate our lives.
My goal is to explore it more thoroughly, and unmask it's secret power: sinful pride. I think this impulse of feeling like an outsider is the consequence of pride in our hearts. Yes, pride.
It seems like humility, but on further examination, it's false humility.
We usually think of the proud man as the one, head held high, who focuses on himself when he walks in the room, and feels sure everyone is looking at him. He knows he is an insider; he can read the minds of everyone present and they are all thinking about him: thinking how graced they are by his mere presence -- hoping, desperately to spend a moment in his light. This he thinks, and he is proud indeed. And wrong. The truth is: no one else in the room thinks about him as much as he thinks about himself.
Compare this character with the seemingly humble man. He walks in a room, head drooping. He feels sure everyone is looking at him askance. He knows he is an outsider. He looks into the minds of the gathered guests, and reads them at once: they don't want me here. They are all thinking about me, and thinking how unwelcome I am. My mere presence is a burden to them, and they are hoping, desperately, not to waste a moment in my darkness. This he thinks, but he is also wrong. The truth is: no one else in the room thinks about him as mush as he thinks about himself. This seemingly humble man is just as proud as his counterpart. Both men are concerned primarily with themselves, and thinking others are primarily concerned with them. Sure, one thinks their concerns are benevolent, and the other thinks their concerns are malevolent. Either way, they are lost in themselves in an unhealthy way.
Which brings me to the question -- what does the truly humble man do? He walks into a room, head on a swivel. He is looking around at everyone else, not thinking much about himself. He is not self-conscious because he is so other-conscious. He's forgotten himself. He notices the colors of things, the accents in the room, the man in the corner who is nursing a broken heart, the woman in the corner who is fidgeting nervously. He moves to care for these people. He is too busy caring about others to care, or even notice, if anyone notices him.
By the way, my own prideful tendencies have varied over the years. During my season of success, I'm sure everyone is waiting to stand in my light; during my seasons of struggle, I'm sure no one can stand my darkness.
"Alice was rather doubtful whether she ought not to lie down on her face like the three gardeners, but she could not remember every having heard of such a rule at processions; `and besides, what would be the use of a procession,’ thought she, `if people had all to lie down upon their faces, so that they couldn’t see it?’ So she stood still where she was, and waited (Alice in Wonderland, chapter 8)."