The thin line between Self-respect and Pride

One of the things I love in Ozumo is the discipline of self-control that the Rikishi must develop and master. It could be said that is a trait of martial arts in general, but Ozumo is the one that I follow closely. High-ranked Rikishi, like the Ozeki and Yokozuna, is supposed to hold “pride” about their positions and behave accordingly. I think the word selected to translate the idea is a terrible choice. Because pride is a horrible thing. Knowing a little about Japanese thinking and behavior, I guess the best translation should be “self-respect”. But what is the difference between the two?

Respect in general, and self-respect in particular, is a trait of love, while pride is the essence of the anti-love. Respect regards others, pride disregards. Respect raises the level of value for all, pride raises one to submit to all others. With self-respect, a person can expect more from himself for the sake of being the best possible for others, while with pride a person expects to be more at the expense of others. With self-respect, a person can be humble, with pride, that is impossible.

What foreigners learn fast in the sumo stables

I remember watching an interview, I don’t know if it was with Konishiki or if it was Akebono’s, but a certain quote stuck with me. It was a lesson that is common for foreign wrestlers to learn fast when they arrive and start training in their Heya, the sumo stable: “if you don’t respect yourself, others will not respect you“.

This idea comes with the strong valuation of duty. You just must do what you are supposed to do, the best way you can do it, as fast as possible, and with no complaining. The moment you forget to do that and enters the process of demoralization, your value to others starts to diminish.

You can’t expect to be respected by others if you don’t respect yourself, and that means that to know your value is to behave accordingly.

Western cynicism

Why is this lesson especially important to foreign wrestlers?

Because of the exceptionalism of Japanese culture. Although Japan has been kind of an open society in the last century or so, compared to its previous ancient “closed gates” isolationist policy, relatively speaking Japan still is a very culturally independent society, with lots of traditions keeping distance from the alien ways of life. Japan itself can be considered by the entire world as one of the most “alien” nations.

But Japan has some things in common with the eastern way of life that looks strange to western people.

The western way of life and culture that have spread across the world is, in a word, a cynical one.

The cynicism consists in the lack of idealism, or the disregard for maintaining appearances, for the sake of living in the most truthful way possible. That is a very powerful idea: why should we keep lying to ourselves, if we already know we are not really good as we pretend to be?

The demoralization can be shocking, though, and indeed the western culture has been pointed to as decadent for that reason, for that loss of idealism that makes all men small, narrow-minded, egoistical, chaotic.

In comparison, eastern values appear to make men more disciplined, and therefore more capable of doing great things and keeping a sense of worthiness.

Eastern hypocrisy

But the East can’t win.

What they gain in discipline, they lose in dishonesty.

It is a powerful, disciplined, high aimed culture, etc. Yes, it’s all that, but it is also hypocritical.

First, from the Middle-East to the Far-East, there is the two-faced behavior, the public persona and the private one. This can look like a very organized way to deal with private and public affairs, but also can be seen as the art of lying. After all, who is the truthful person, the public one or the private one?

Second, disagreement is incredibly hard under Eastern values, and that blocks innovation and creativity. If the values and practices in society are so good, how can one contest it legitimately, and make any type of real progress?

Third, dissent is condemned in such a way that the injustices of the current system tend to prevail and become perennial. The figures of authority are so inquestionable, that the entire society can be looked at as an inescapable prison. Corruption also grows into an inexpugnable fortress of power that becomes inseparable from the very structure of society.

East can’t win because their progress is linear and limited, and power becomes tyrannical.

Global stupidity

So, here we are: the West is doomed in decadence and depression, and the East looks like it’s becoming Mordor, which is not much better. No one is really good: we are all stupid.

Maybe that is the western talking in me, of course.

To admit global stupidity is a western trait, after all. And maybe that is what gives a little edge in favor of the West. Because if the decadence and demoralization themselves can be addressed, maybe we can found an exit to this. One could point out even the modern liberal values and the capitalist system as the solution, a society with human rights to keep minimum levels of dignity, and the proper incentives to innovation to boost progress.

I know that looks tempting, but can that really work?

I don’t think so, because I don’t believe in collective solutions. And this is why this post is entitled “The thin like between Self-respect and Pride”: because the real solution must be where there is a real problem, in the individual. Yes, we are dragged and molded by the societies where we live, but that is a frame, not our destiny.

With Jesus Christ, revealed in the middle point between East and West, and the true Light of the World, we can learn to live before God no matter what are the spiritual diseases of our community or even of the Hemisphere where we live. It doesn’t matter in what collective group you live in, it matters only what you decide to do.

One could say that individualism is a Western value.

To that I answer that living before God is not individualism: it transcends the very opposition between the individual and the collective. It doesn’t matter to live in a more or less individualistic way, because that is under the “living to the world” part of the equation. Living to God means to left the world behind, you are not an individual in the world or part of a collective, you are a creature living before your Creator. I hope you can see and appreciate the difference.

Self-respect as Self-love

My feeling is that this post has gone far and wild from its modest beginnings. If you enjoyed and appreciated it, I don’t care.

To close from where I started, one thing I like in Ozumo is the balance between form and performance.

There are very strict rules for everything, and all things are done by repetition. It is a truly monolithic system. But at the same time, the Rikishi must perform better under that form, they must be creative and bring their personal best contribution to the art.

The Rikishi are like flowers planted in this large garden by the same person under the same conditions. Done the base job to make them grow, each flower can blossom in its particular way.

To blossom, it is necessary to believe in true value and worth, it’s like an act of defiance against the possibility of decline and death. The flower answers the ultimate call from the sun: show yourself!

The result is beautiful. Then we learn how self-respect can be self-love, what makes us happy being loved by God (our sun), and loving and being loved by others.

Maybe there is this real nobility that can be learned, neither eastern nor western, just the nobility of love as the supreme rule. The lesson is Love, the master is Jesus Christ.

As God’s Rikishi in the wrestle of light against darkness, I hope we can grow as noble flowers in the Lord’s garden.

Coincidence or not, my favorite Rikishi of all time is Takanohana.

In Japanese: “Noble Flower“.

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