In Defence Of Arrogance?Thursday, January 16, 2014
Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, the other a publican. The Pharisee stood upright, and made this prayer in his heart, I thank thee, God, that I am not like the rest of men, who steal and cheat and commit adultery, or like this publican here; for myself, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican stood far off; he would not even lift up his eyes towards heaven; he only beat his breast, and said, God, be merciful to me; I am a sinner. I tell you, this man went back home higher in God’s favour than the other; everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and the man who humbles himself shall be exalted.
Luke 18:9-14 (Knox Catholic Bible)
The above St. Luke recounting of one of Jesus’s parables is one that I have never ever forgotten. Of late it has been much in my thoughts. Let me explain.
Some ten years ago I was invited to a roof party at the house of a female designer I worked with for many years. She had retired and was launching herself as an artist (a very good one). I ran into a woman whom I did not remember but who remembered me. She told me we (she had been the editor) had worked for a publication of the Vancouver Central 1 Credit Union some years ago and that her impression of me was that I was arrogant.
I was shocked to hear this. Of late I asked my wife if she thought I was arrogant and she concurred with the Credit Union Editor. That shocked me even further.
With my head on her lap (sometime around 1964) on a bus on the way to Veracruz, Mexico I asked Judy Brown to explain to me her concept on the lack of altruism in the world opposed to its common opposite selfishness. Brown explained that even giving your life for someone else brought the pleasure of satisfaction to the person giving up their life and thus even Christ had been selfish when he was on the cross. I could not find any way of countering with some sort of example that she could not twist so I gave up. Neither of us had ever heard or read any Ayn Rand or knew anything about her “the virtue of selfishness.” With Alan Greenspan as one of Rand’s followers I can now explain why it is that so many American of the Republican Party are keen on stopping food stamps and unemployment security benefits. Poor people were born to be poor and will remain so because they have no ambition and they are lazy. Rand would not have put it in exactly those words but she would have agreed with direction of the content. For Rand some of us were born as acorns and would one day grow to be large and prosperous oak trees while other would be tiny and fragile plants in which no kind of help would counter the tendency for weakness and smallness.
In past blogs I have written about my feeling of isolation and even of my alienation in Vancouver. I have harped on how the phone never rings and how my messages on answering machines are rarely returned.
I know have an inkling of what this isolation/alienation might be. It is not that at all. It is a marginalization. I am not a friend of the present mayor as I was of the former one. The contacts that people say I have are either dead or living elsewhere. They have move on.
Three recent requests for my pictures from New York Magazine, the British Harper’s Bazaar and a director working on a documentary about Roger Ebert, only cement the realization that had moved early in my career to Toronto, my marginalization would not be as severe.
But there is more and it came to me some four years ago when I went to Grant Simmons at DISC for some drum scans of some of my transparencies. For one of the transparencies I showed him an exquisite light jet print (20 by 24 inches) of my granddaughter Rebecca. Rebecca was with me at the time. Simmons looked at the exquisite print and said, “Leave that here. I can print a better one.” As we left and as we approached the car my Rebecca said, “He is full of himself, isn’t he?” I attempted to explain the difference between having an accurate self-confidence in one’s abilities and that of being a charlatan. But it was to no avail. Rebecca thought Simmons was full of it. And of course when Simmons presented me with his version, the erstwhile exquisite light jet print was clearly no match to Simmons’s giclée.
For quite a few years I was the virtual staff photographer for Vancouver Magazine and many more magazines including the Georgia Straight. In a small market and owned a big pie. I could feel the resentment in some of my peers.
Now as I languish in retirement and with paid photography just about non-existent I understand my isolation and why photographers will not call me back.
So I live a present life of exciting personal photography with nobody to show it to or to discuss.
It was my mentor (who died in early 2013) Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. Who told us when we were around 16 that our mission in life was to find out what we had been born to do (he further explained that it was to find out what we could do well or had an interest in) and to do it to the best of our ability.
It seems to me that even if you do not believe that a personal talent is a God-given talent, the pursuit of the goal of achieving it means that once you achieve it you have the confidence to say that what you do is done well and that is just the way it is. Anything else would be false modesty. My friend Judy Brown would have concurred on that, too!
Which brings me to the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. In most versions of the New Testament, the Publican is explained as being a tax-collector. I like the ordinary sounding publican. I believe that the Pharisee has been maligned a bit. And that the publican should learn to have more confidence in his abilities (God-given or not).
Was that Pharisee that over-confident, arrogant even? I am beginning to have my doubts.