I come from a long line of folks who cannot abide The Big Head. I don’t know if this malady is well known north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but down here in the South, everybody knows about The Big Head. It’s the noun form of the adjective phrase “full of him/herself.” For example, you might hear it used like this: “She is so full of herself; that girl has really got The Big Head!”
My father, a first generation college graduate who finished his master’s degree in 1963 and his doctorate in 1979, has every right to have a touch of The Big Head. But he has always said to me and my siblings what may well have been said to him: “When you get so smart you think you’re better than somebody else, it’s about time you go right on back to school.” And my mother — listen, she could puncture a bloating Big Head with just a look.
Naturally then, when my kids were old enough to get the message, I’d say, “Children, I’d rather you be dumb as a rock than get The Big Head.” Self-confidence is one thing. But being so full of yourself as to have The Big Head? Unacceptable. Thus, it has always been my goal to raise kids with both self-esteem and humility.
Then came Facebook. And I, like every other parent in this millennium, set about posting pictures and status updates about my children. “So proud of my son for winning this award!” “Proud Parent! My daughter received that recognition!” “Off to All-State! Proud of this girl!”
But there’s nothing wrong with being proud of our children, right? I mean, it’s not like I was going on about my own accomplishments. I was simply reporting, sharing, keeping people in the loop as it were.
My children (who had apparently been paying just a little too much attention in their early days) saw it a little differently. After every significant achievement, they’d warn me. “Now, Mom, don’t put this on Facebook. It feels like you’re bragging.”
The nerve! The ingratitude! The … truth.
I started thinking about this business of parental pride, publicized so widely through social media. According to dictionary.com, the definition of “pride” is “a high … opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed ….” Yikes. When I boasted about my children’s achievements, was I really patting myself on the back for the superiority of my parenting? (Conviction. It’s so intrusive!)
The other nagging question I had, though, was this: When my children experienced victory, was it really “pride” that I was feeling? I thought back to the times I’ve been really proud of my children. They were times that didn’t look like success at all. Like when they tried their best, failed, then got up and tried again. Times when they lost, but handled it with grace. When they acted justly, delighted in mercy, and walked humbly with God. Those were moments I “cherished in my [mind].” When they win, I’m happy for them, of course; I’m glad things went well. Those are cheerful, photograph-taking moments for sure. But pride? The times I’m proudest of my kids, I’m too grateful to Snapchat or Instagram; I’m too wrapped up in thanksgiving to update my status.
In a video that has received nearly two million hits on ted.com, New York Times columnist David Brooks speaks about the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Quoting The Lonely Man of Faith by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), Brooks describes Soloveitchik’s theory of the two Adams. Soloveitchik suggests that within each of us are two Adams: Adam 1 who values external, worldy success, or résumé virtues; and Adam 2 who values integrity and strength of character, or eulogy virtues. Brooks contends that the United States values Adam 1 over Adam 2 and that this résumé-driven mentality is crippling our culture.
I’d agree. And, as a product of this culture, I wrestle with this exact internal conflict that Brooks and Soloveitchik describe so eloquently. So what’s a Baptist to do? Well, I’m not sure. But I think part of the answer is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (2:3-4).
Sounds to me like a pretty good way to avoid The Big Head, don’t you think?