Conquering Humble Pride – August 2009 Fellow Rikin Tank Reflects on the Irony of Boasting about your Humility
As a graduate of the University of California-Los Angeles with a double major in premedical studies and International Development, August 2009 Fellow Rikin Tank is learning that part of development is managing ego . Based in Ahmedabad, Rikin is partnered with Aajeevika Bureau and focuses on public health in migrant communities. Rikin muses:
Before coming to India for the Indicorps Fellowship, I woke up every morning asking myself how I could be better than the day before. I was in a constant quest to seek happiness, and at the same time, do something for the benefit of others. After joining Indicorps, I woke up every morning being a little more satisfied than I was before because I was given the opportunity to link both my happiness and the happiness of others—through service. Along the way, I realized I had started on a very dangerous path, a path of pride and inequality, in addition to a stuffy nose.
Every morning, I woke up with my olfactory system stuffed with ideas of a self-righteous identity, one where I felt better than both my old self pre-Indicorps, as well as better than others around me. During my first few weeks in India, I realized that there was much more in the world that I needed to learn, that there were infinite opportunities to learn something new. This period taught me humility, and eventually, showed me how to live with honesty and compassion. But soon after, I began to pride myself on my humility. . . Pride myself on my humility. Ironic, oxymoronic, paradoxical. Whatever it was, it was just plain wrong. An old adage and contemporary phenomenon suggests the idea of how “I art holier than thou” wherein the party in question feels like they are morally superior to their peers. Well, I was waking up every morning, unknowingly calculating the many ways that I thought I was indeed holier than thou (yeah….you).
In training myself to face adversity, overcome all obstacles, and do so in ways that very few others would even attempt, I began conflating socially conscious with socially superior. Suddenly, the humility with which I was able to relate to others different from myself turned into a platform for me to compare myself to others and more dangerously, evaluate who was better. Initially difficult to believe and embarrassed to admit to it, I found that it was not uncommon, this feeling of supremacy.
Some people seem to compare the life of a fellow, to that of ex-pats that hang out together at air-conditioned cafes, to the lives of volunteers that don’t seem to have the “commitment”. But I am here to be a change maker. I am here to make others realize their own potential to be change makers. Why do we have to evaluate? Why do we automatically justify ourselves as higher on the moral food chain. Most importantly, why does making that comparison even matter? The implementation of development strategies inherently requires someone to believe that they know better, but that does not mean one has to attempt to maintain a supremacy over someone else. In fact, it highlights the obligation we have to strive towards bridging the gap of this disparity. It means accepting them as people capable of good, of truth, and of affecting change in just the same way I believe I can.
Many times people initially decide to engage in social-work because of a feeling of guilt, or because they want to do something more in their lives. This is great, but after making this change in their own lives, they feel they are at an advantage because others have not been able to cleanse their souls or connect with communities at such a level or “do something more.” Gandhian philosophy is founded on the idea that each individual must follow his or her own path of discovering truth. This truth is different for each person, but it is in accepting and understanding the truth of others that Gandhi found great value. We live simply, we work in the development field, and we build relationships with others very different from ourselves, but not so we can be voted most humanitarian in the yearbook.
These days when I wake up in the mornings, I still fall into the trap of thinking about ways I am better, but I have begun to catch myself, because at the end of the day, I can do one of two things: spend my time evaluating why I art holier than thou, or blow my enlarged nose really hard, and try to capture the scent of my own truth.
Rikin Tank, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow