Since childhood, I’ve responded to ostracism from family and friends with a drive to prove myself better than other people around me. I gave up on belonging to the club, and convinced myself instead that “they’re not good enough for me.”
This was both an inner affliction and a social liability to me until at age 26, through a program of personal growth through peer counseling, I learned to transform the outward behavior while maintaining the inward aloofness. I learned to listen empathetically, to offer kindness and generosity on the outside, while thinking secretly, “I have much to offer you, but you have little to offer me.”
This attitude has been too successful for me, because it has made it easy for me to connect socially, while hiding my scar from public view; so the scar has remained cloaked and unhealed forty years on.
I don’t want to give up on kindness or service. But can I devote my life to serving without feeling that I have one-upped the people I serve? Can I live with myself if I relinquish the habit of whispering in my own ear assurances of my moral and intellectual superiority? Can I care for another in a loving relationship without making her or him feel smaller for receiving my help?
As e e cummings might have said (but didn’t, quite), To feel better than others is a comfortable disease.
Caring for others helps me support the illusion that I am better than they are. I am the helper, they are the helped. Though I keep it quietly to myself, an aura of moral superiority clouds the relationship. I am left with something more comfortable than intimacy, but less real.
You are invited to reach within me gently or prod me violently or surprise me with humor or whatever it takes to re-open this piece of my heart. Can you make me feel cared for while helping me to laugh at myself?
— Josh Mitteldorf