A Modern Parable

Steven and Samuel Chamberlain were identical twin brothers, born in 1965. They grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and were inseparable. They both were serious students and great athletes. Steven was the quarterback on their high school football team, while Samuel was the team’s star receiver. In the spring they both played baseball.

Though it was a difficult decision, they decided to attend different colleges. Steven enrolled at the University of North Carolina, and Samuel went to Wake Forest. The four years flew by and both young men flourished socially and academically. It was during their senior years that they both were notified that they had been accepted into the Vanderbilt School of Medicine. It was a dream come true.

Medical school was difficult and the hours were long, but the two brothers excelled in their school work and training. Steven Chamberlain became a well-known orthopedic surgeon and Samuel a very well-respected vascular surgeon. They both moved back to Memphis and began their medical practices. As the years went by they married, had children, and remained very close. Both of their families eventually moved to a very fine suburb called Mountain Ridge. The two families lived just down the street from each other. Life was good.

One day Steven received a call from one of his patients. This particular patient was a very distinguished realtor in their community, and he revealed to Steven, confidentially, that he had just been given the listing on a piece of the most coveted land in Mountain Ridge. It was one hundred acres of choice property on top of the small mountain for which the community was named.

Steven realized he could build his dream home on this property, and he would have an incredible view of the community below. It would be a showplace that everyone in Mountain Ridge could look up to and see. Within an hour, he had spoken to his wife and they made the offer at list price.

News that this choice piece of property had been sold spread quickly throughout the community. Everyone was curious to see the magnificent house that would be built upon the hill.

It took over two years for the house to be constructed; once it was finished, it was captivating, particularly at night when it was all lit up.

It was an 8,000 square foot house with seven bedrooms and ten bathrooms. It had an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, and a stable for their daughter’s horses. When the couple decided to have a big gala to allow people in the community to see their new home, everyone was anxious over whether they would be invited or not.

Every morning Steven woke up and walked out on one of his balconies with a cup of coffee and the Wall Street Journal in hand and looked down on the town below. Without realizing it, he gloated, knowing that he lived in the nicest home in Mountain Ridge and probably all of Memphis. He reasoned to himself that he had worked hard for it and therefore clearly deserved the beautiful place.

Also every morning, Samuel woke up down in the suburbs below. He too sipped on a cup of coffee on his modest backyard porch where he had a perfect view of his brother’s beautiful home. He thought to himself, “That pompous, arrogant brother of mine. He is so full of himself.” He thought about his own life and gloated over the fact that he had a much more modest lifestyle than his brother and could therefore give more money to the church and to charity. He also reflected on the fact that his children were not nearly as spoiled as his brother’s, who were real brats. He was very proud of his wise choices and good works as he compared his life and family with those of his brother.

In this parable you find both of these brothers are guilty of pride. The first brother, Steven, was comparing his possession and material wealth to everyone else’s in the community. It caused him to have a feeling of superiority over them.

He was guilty of what so many of us are guilty of—“conspicuous consumption,” a term coined back in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen in his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Conspicuous consumption is when you buy something, not primarily for its usefulness, but for the way it makes you look in the eyes of others.

Veblen shows us how pride is so often the motive behind our decision to make purchases that enable us to proclaim to the world we are wealthy. Steven was guilty of pride, and it was quite obvious, and the entire community could see it.

It is important to recognize that pride emanates from a multitude of sources: wealth, achievement, power, beauty, and knowledge. However, there is a pride that Reinhold Niebuhr believed is the most dangerous—the pride of virtue, or what the Bible calls self-righteousness. In the four Gospels, you see Jesus’ most searing words aimed at the Pharisees and their self-righteousness. It is the one sin that quickly brings forth His anger.

Self-righteousness is what Samuel is guilty of. It is important to notice how comparison is at work. He compares himself to his brother who lives up on the hill. He compares their lifestyles and concludes that his is morally superior, and naturally presumes that he is so much more righteous than his brother.

What I find to be so interesting is that through comparison, each of these men is guilty of pride. However, pride that results in conspicuous consumption is easy to detect when someone is trying to impress you.

The problem with self-righteousness is that it is so difficult to see because you are blinded by your own perceived goodness. In Samuel’s mind, all he could see was the good he was doing. “I am living modestly; I am giving money away; I am doing so much good for the community, unlike my extravagant, pompous brother.” This is a picture of putting yourself in the place of God as judge, and in the process you are blinded by your presumptuousness.

Hopefully you can see from this blog how pride is so deadly. C.S. Lewis says it is “the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the beginning of time.” And the reason it causes such damage is that we are so blind to its presence in our own lives.

This blog is taken from Richard’s book The Power of a Humble LifeRichard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author. 


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