A scene from the animated Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has been on my mind recently. It’s an exchange between a character named Iroh, an old and wise retired general, and his nephew, Zuko, a young and headstrong prince.
Shortly after Zuko experiences a series of setbacks and failures, Iroh seeks to mentor the young prince.
Sensing turmoil within his nephew, Iroh advises Zuko to let go of any feelings of shame to find some semblance of inner peace. Frustrated by this, Zuko responds, “But I don’t feel any shame at all! I’m as proud as ever!”
To this, Iroh replies, “Prince Zuko, pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”
These words from Iroh resonate with me because I’ve been much like Zuko at certain times in my life — too prideful to admit that I need help and too stubborn to accept advice when offered.
That’s also been true about my interactions with my own disability. When I was younger, particularly during my middle school and teenage years, although I would acknowledge to others that I had Charcot-Marie-Tooth, I was never willing to admit that sometimes I let my disability get to me — that on some days, the disease wins. I definitely wouldn’t have willingly participated in any kind of CMT community group.
That’s because doing so would have required me to admit that I have a failure-prone body that doesn’t always cooperate the way I’d like. It would have required me to admit that I could use some help and that I’m unable to muscle through a disease like CMT by myself.
And yet, with an adversary like CMT, no one is able to truly fight it alone.
I think that speaks to the insidious nature of pride. Although I sometimes felt “safe” by not admitting weakness, all I was really doing was protecting my ego. And obsessing over one’s ego suffocates any potential for growth. After all, without being honest about my limitations, how can I expect to improve?
Indeed, “pride comes before the fall,” as the old adage goes. And in the cases for CMTers like me, sometimes the fall can be quite literal. Although it’s not always easy, I continually find that by letting go of pride, I can let go of my shame, whether it’s caused by a disability or otherwise. And by doing so, I can find and receive help with an open mind, confident that my value is inherent and not tied to any sort of pretence.