I was sitting in the VIP Lounge at the airport today and talked with a man very high up in government. I asked him what he did. “Oh, I’m a nobody!” he said.
This was false humility, as he was a powerful, connected and important person (and no, it wasn’t the PM, if that’s what you’re thinking – Tuila’epa doesn’t have that problem).
In this Sermon from Samoa I talk about Me! Me! Me! figuratively, and literally.
Divining and speaking the truth (especially about ourselves) requires wisdom, and is a balancing act between two extremes:
a) acting bigger than you are . . . and
b) putting yourself down.
Both extremes are essentially influenced by pride. Puffing yourself up is a show of pride (me, me, me) but putting yourself down unduly is false humility. In my book Lipstick on a Pig, I quote a poem, years ago one of the first Christian things I ever took notice from outside of the bible, and it has stuck with me as an important reminder of the importance of honesty when dealing with the most important matter of life to each of us – and that is ourselves.
“Once in a stately passion I cried with desperate grief
‘Oh Lord, my heart is black with guile, of sinners I am chief’
Then stooped my guardian angel and whispered from behind
‘Vanity my little man, you’re nothing of the kind’”
Poet, James Thomson
False humility. It’s pride!
In New Zealand we suffer from the Tall Poppy Syndrome, which is an evil insidious peer-pressure that attempts to pull someone down if they stand taller than the rest. It suffocates creativity, productivity, and many other good things. Again it is pride. We think that we’re better than them and why should we let them get success, fame and glory and I don’t. It’s naked jealousy, which is essentially pride, and I hate, hate, hate it.
Samoa is quite a bit worse in some ways, with a well-recognised and entrenched national past-time to pull others down. It just doesn’t happen some of the time – it is a cultural norm. Many people we speak to here talk about it as if it is horrible, and wrong and puzzlement at why they do it to themselves . . . but they still do it!
There are two different coping mechanisms for this. They either:
- Put themselves down (like my friend did today), or
- They puff themselves up and revel in the “chiefly” power that they have.
In private, many words are spoken here, woman to woman, and away from the men that would initiate violence if ever spoken in public. Behind closed doors, families will talk about other families, people talk about other people with things that would NEVER be said in public.
Palagi to Palagi, today, in the check-in queue a man shared with me the frustrations of doing business up here . . “They say ‘Yes’ but it means ‘No’ and it drives you nuts!” – but he’d never say that out loud to someone who didn’t really understand his pain or that he couldn’t trust.
Speaking the truth comes easy to us all out of public hearing, or when we know or trust who we’re speaking to.
While we can all learn to play by the special rules that exist in Samoa, the Christian challenge though, is this . . . how far do we go in “playing games” and being all diplomatic when the bible exhorts us to speak the truth, at all times, letting our yes mean yes and our no mean no.
Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
A young Samoan man asked me this very question recently. He had been reading Lipstick on a Pig and was touched – yes, a spiritual awakening of sorts I understand. I guess you could say that the penny had dropped for him and he started seeing things in a different light. He was born into a powerful and wealthy family who attended church and did the church thing. He instinctively knew that my direct open and honest speaking style would come into direct confrontation with his immediate family and social scene, and he asked me this same very question, “How far do you go when speaking the truth? You could become a hated man very easily. Where do you draw the line?”
This is one perceptive young man who has the potential to go a long way in life. I hope that when he answers the question for himself, he errs along the lines of the Bible, rather than the culture, but that is for him to work out, between now and the time he’s put in a grave.
I was challenged today too, receiving a testimonial from a friend/colleague on LinkedIn, a social media platform for professionals. The recommendation came in and used some flowery language that pushed even me, to question whether it was too over-the-top to publish.
I like people who say nice things about me. To be perfectly frank, I want it to happen more, and more, and more so that the few vocal people who do hate me and who don’t trust me can get shamed into liking me and trusting me, like I think they should. There – that’s brutally honest isn’t it?
Can you be as honest as I just have and get away with it? Sure, you can. Just like you can get away with publishing nice things others say about you. It’s all about integrity, shooting straight and building a reputation. The Master did it. He told His disciples to do what He did, because He was the Son of God. Yup, some of those in power at the time put Him to the
sword cross for saying that, but He shot straight, and told us to do it too!
So here is the offending testimonial, a few others, and my comments:
“Dennis is a fabulous man with vision, integrity and creative talent. I enjoyed working with him @ WDANZ and found him to be a genuine, caring, competent professional. I would recommend him to anyone.” Top qualities: Personable, Expert, High Integrity
S.Ev. September 16, 2011
“Dennis is an ideas person – that can then turn those ideas into positive action. He works with people from different backgrounds well and can call on his many contacts to find the right answer when needed. He has the ability to see the big picture and also to instantly see what is required to achieve great things… If you need an ideas person that gets things done for your project – he’s the man…” R.H. July 10, 2011
I like this testimonial particularly because I think it is quite perceptive and accurate, not just a “fluffy, saying nice things” sort of testimonial. It really gets down to the nitty gritty.
R.H. pulls out some of the things that I think I do really well, and that is to not only be an “ideas person” and to be able to see the “big picture”, but a couple of things I do also, that go further than that. First, I know many people who can see the big picture, but not many can see the HOW to get there. I can and it’s a mixture of vision, revelation, experience and creative thinking that gets me there. The second is to be able to envision “great things”, not just the same as what other people think of as possibilities. It takes guts, and in my case faith to go for things bigger than have been done before, but I do have that.
When I first came to Samoa, I shared a concept with SITS (the Samoa IT Society) – it was to use a limousine to bring in top-notch IT and marketing people to help Samoa, post-Tsunami. As I stared around the room and fielded questions from people who clearly wondered what other
planet universe I had just beamed down from, I could easily have given up. Almost two years later, we have the organisation set up (SWAP); we have the limousine; we have the land; and we are building the infrastructure and programs to do exactly that!
Big dreams; big challenges; big opportunities; lots of hard work, pain and frustration but also lots of faith.
“Dennis is a highly motivated guy who isn’t afraid to shake things up a bit to get things done. I have worked with Dennis on some WDANZ initiatives and in other areas and can commend his work ethic and innovative ideas and can recommend Dennis to anyone considering working with him.” S.E. July 25, 2011
Again this guy knows me well. As he said we worked together and he highlights the concept of leadership - taking a thought leadership role requires a bit of “stirring up” to get things done. Any ship that is moving always leaves a wake. I know two speeds: stop and go. Go means go.
“I toured New Zealand with Dennis teaching Search Engine Optimisation to the public and web developers as part of WDANZ. Dennis is an incredible sales person and ideas man. Being part of some of his initiatives has been a ride of a lifetime.” M.B. August 16, 2011
Sometimes there are double meanings in what people say. M.B. and I worked really closely for a while and did some big things together, then fell out. He did something that I felt was wrong and I held him to account for it and the relationship soured, so the ride of a lifetime means more than just fun and success!
I do like the use of the word “incredible”, but again it is a loaded phrase, and objective. If you don’t mix in the world of sales, “incredible” could be the case, but . . . [insert insidious false humility here]! I was thinking of a inserting a slice of false humility in here, but not after thinking back to my sales career’s constant top performance!
“Dennis is ultra creative, he’s thinks outside the square and is a visionary. He is supportive and generous, and understands people. Dennis knows what clients want and is excellent at helping them through the sales process.” R.L. February 8, 2010
R.L. goes a little deeper here and draws out another aspect of my life, and that is the teaching side. I have always helped others to understand things. I always share what I have learned. I did this before I trained as a teacher, and after I left the teaching profession. It’s not a crime in my book either to admit to being supportive or generous, as long as this is true.
I know a few who would question the comment that I “understand people” but hey questions are good!
“I was impressed with Dennis’s knowledge of the Internet and his ability to help small business owners take advantage of its many opportunities.” P.B. July 9, 2011
What I like about this testimonial is the personalisation. Rather than tell the world who I am as fact, P.B. speaks about his own experiences. Very professional.
Thanks to the people above who cared enough to write their thoughts down for the world to see. All in all, the list above shoots pretty straight. I’d love us all to stand up and be honest about these sorts of things too, and in public!
According to my bible this is godly.
I’ve got a lot of time for a blogger Cameron Slater, who goes by the pen name of Whale Oil (Short for Whale Oil Beef Hooked). Say it fast and with an “accent” and you’ll get it. Cam pushed the boundaries a bit when he first started blogging and ended up in high profile spat with the authorities in New Zealand by naming and shaming people who had committed crimes but who had name suppression. Short story – he lost. But coming back from there, he has developed a very strong online following and is a recognised name, a leader even, in the NZ political blogosphere.
He’s a smart guy, sometimes obnoxious or arguably a little overly aggressive, but the maturing of his Whale brand and blogging is great to see. Does he suffer from false humility, or fear of the dreaded Tall Poppy Syndrome? Nope! His has the sort of approach to life that makes leaders leaders, and makes a success of a man in many ways. Like him or not, agree with him or not, you have to respect someone who stands up and is counted.
I’ll leave the last preaching to him:
… I pointed out:
- Neutrality is not respected
- People follow media outlets that reinforce their views
- People follow bloggers not mastheads
- Bloggers have a very different relationship than with mastheads or journalists
- Comments and interactivity help build the relationship, which is reinforced by communicating directly with the blogger
Bearing that in mind, I am not neutral (and never will be), I have a large army of followers who are loyal, my followers go where I go,
and ending with all guns blazing:
People read my blog because they like what I say, they like what I do and they like that no one is ever going to die wondering what I really think.
There are those on the left that would like me to go away, some have even sent me emails and made blog posts wishing I were dead. They are the reason I keep doing what I am doing. I know it annoys them. The more I annoy them, the better I feel.
I enjoy blogging, I’m damn good at it, despite what the detractors say, and I have plenty more fight in me. So long as I am enjoying blogging I will keep doing it. But one thing I will never do is pretend to be impartial and non-partisan. People like to know where I stand and I will continue to tell them.
But there is a word of warning, I am not so partisan that my own teams get off lightly. If they screw up or are found wanting then they too will feel the wrath of the Whale.
If you don’t like what I do then don’t read my site, switch off if you will. Carping and moaning about my partisan blogging just makes me smile, so keep it up.
His full post “I’m partisan and proud of it“.