Reading Matters

Tavis Smiley’s friendship with Maya Angelou

Growing up in a trailer park in rural Indiana, a black kid in a white world, Tavis Smiley writes that he gravitated toward mentors. So he was in luck when someone asked him if he’d accompany Maya Angelou on her trip to Ghana .

His job? To carry the good woman’s luggage.

Smiley was 21 and Angelou, 58. It was a memorable match, and the future host of The Tavis Smiley Show and the poet / professor became fast friends.

In the book, “My Journey with Maya” (Little, Brown, $24), Smiley recounts many things he learned from Dr. Angelou. I thought this one -- on backing down in an argument -- was particularly valuable:

“In disagreements such as these, friends can banter back and forth,” Angelou said to Smiley. “That can be enlightening and even fun. Every now and then I enjoy a good intellectual jostle. But at a certian point push comes to shove. The wise person -- and believe me, that wise person is not always me -- will recognize that point. The wise person will see that further dispute will only lead to frustration and aggravation. The core of the argument is suddenly overwhelmed by the demands of the ego. The ego say, ‘I will not let go. I must be right.’ If we heed the ego, the combat becomes brutal, and pride, rather than understanding, rules the day. It isn’t diffrences of opinion that ruin friendships. It’s pride. And what is pride but a puffed-up sense of self?”