Fans of Uncle Iroh are not the only ones who may appreciate the fictional wise man's sentiments about the simple, but not necessarily easy-to-understand machinations of the human heart. It is, as Iroh recognized, not advisable to define any human emotion merely by a synonym or an antonym. For example, he observes that: "Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.” Now, the first part of Iroh's observation, about pride not being the opposite of shame, ought to challenge us, because we often assume that shame implies a loss of the entitlement associated with pride or dignity. Pride is not the opposite of shame? Huh? But wait. the second part of Iroh's meditation, the part about humility being the antidote to shame, offers to explain what is in fact the deeper paradox of pride. Well, duh, of course if we are humble, we will not feel shame. Or perhaps we need to clarify what Iroh means, namely: if we are humble enough, then we will no longer feel a sense of shame for any poorly chosen or acted word or deed of which we have otherwise been ashamed. We have all said and done things we've regretted after the fact, to the extent that we are sensitive toward others and have a conscience. Sometimes, we don't even intend to do harm, and yet our words and/or actions are injurious to others. And so despite our technical innocence, we may even then still feel some responsibility or blame. And yet, when we see our own limitations for what they are, we are humbled. And when we are humble, we find it easier to forgive ourselves. And when we are humbled and forgiven by ourselves, we can more easily begin to let go of any shame. Which is not to say we are then without responsibility. But, with our dignity--our pride--intact, we can begin to experience responsibility, without shame, as both the privilege and the honor of being a thoughtful and aware human. Just as the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, so, too, as Uncle Iroh reminds us, the opposite of pride is not shame, but true humility.
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