People fear pride, which is weird, and a bummer. Pride is good. It even seems a little sad when someone tells me they fear letting themselves feel pride. Pride is simply a way of telling ourselves we have done something worth doing, and maybe we have even done it well. So why do we fear it when it seems like we shouldn’t?
Fear of pride may be local to the cultural influences of where I live (Scandinavian, Northern European, Minnesotan) or religious admonitions against pride as a “sin.” Pride is even listed as one of the “seven deadly sins.” On a more personal basis, we may fear pride in case it shows us to be arrogant, or that what we are proud of makes others uncomfortable. But pride is an important part of mental health, essential to our feeling good about ourselves and our lives.
A wiki article sums up the two ways of thinking about pride quite nicely:
“Pride is an inwardly directed emotion that carries two common meanings. With a negative connotation pride refers to an inflated sense of one’s personal status or accomplishments, often used synonymously with hubris. With a positive connotation, pride refers to a satisfied sense of attachment toward one’s own or another’s choices and actions, or toward a whole group of people, and is a product of praise, independent self-reflection, or a fulfilled feeling of belonging.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride)
In order to avoid the confusion surrounding whether pride is a good or bad thing, I try to use other words when describing the kind of pride that has a negative connotation. Hubris is an inflated sense of capacity that leads us to make bad decisions. Arrogance is the belief or attitude that we are better people than others (conceit) or that others are less valuable than we are (superiority). Vanity is a kind of self-absorption based on a fascination with ourselves and often accompanied by the (usually false) assumption that others should be as fascinated with us as we are with ourselves.
I believe it is not only possible but important to figure out how to let ourselves feel pride in our accomplishments and capacities and entirely possible to do so without letting it become arrogance, hubris, conceit or vanity. The wiki article quoted above notes that St. Augustine described pride as: “the love of one’s own excellence.” I like this way of looking at pride, so I will assume this is a positive connotation of pride. How can we not want to be proud of what we do, who we are, who we are becoming? In fact, along with the love for others and the love of others, pride in one’s self is an essential ingredient of satisfaction in life. I want to be the best version of myself I can be? Don’t you? If you are trying to become a better version of you, and you can see ways that you are, shouldn’t you be proud of both your efforts and your results? Obviously, I think you should!
Perhaps the most important reason to let ourselves feel pride is what happens when we deny ourselves pride due to our concern that it will be perceived as arrogance, aloofness, or some other negative trait. When we deny ourselves pride, we are much less likely to allow ourselves to feel the many things that go along with pride, like confidence, higher self-esteem and recognition of the esteem of others, feelings of belongingness and good self-worth—that we have something important to contribute. In all of this, if we deny ourselves the capacity to feel and express pride in our accomplishments we are telling ourselves that what makes us great doesn’t really make us great. What a crime! What a deprivation. Why negate something so important to achieving satisfaction with who we are? If we deny ourselves pride for what we accomplish, we are also less likely to take the risks necessary to achieve something that will make us proud. There are times when we should do things for reasons other than pride, like obligation, plain necessity for life, or it is just the right thing to do. When moral or other obligations don’t come into play, though, pride is not only an essential incentive to risk failure or struggle, pride is often an essential part of the goal itself. Quite often in life, this is very true: without pride for what we have done at the end, why bother?
I have always been surprised by the negative reactions of others when I have felt pride about something I have accomplished. Very early in my legal career, I assisted in winning a significant trial. I was rightly proud of what we had accomplished. When I returned to the office, a more senior attorney chastised me for my beaming attitude, suggesting I should tone down my bravado to avoid making enemies. I was stunned. I had believed that a win by any attorney in the firm meant a win for the firm as a whole. Some took it this way, but some did not. Apparently, there were those who felt threatened by someone else’s competition, that it was a “zero sum game” (when someone “wins” someone else must be “losing”). If I had internalized that negative reaction, to the extent that I didn’t let myself feel good about winning trials for myself and my clients, how could I ever have felt good about being an attorney? Other than money, what would have been the personal reward? How could I have said to myself, “I am good at this, and getting better?” Don’t we need these kinds of feelings about what we do, no matter what we do?
Haven’t we all experienced something similar to this example? We want to feel good about something we have done. When we show this to others, their reaction might be very positive and supportive or they might react with resentment, negativity or envy. Most of us unfortunately learn at a pretty young age that we need to be very cautious about expressing our pride to others, even when that pride is well deserved and well-intended. We almost instinctively fear that others will perceive our expression of pride as meaning that are bragging, or we think we not only did something better than others, but we think we are better than others. There is something to be said for not being a poor winner. There is also something to be said for celebrating our victories. We want the first place runner in grade school to stand tall and beam a broad smile when we they receive their ribbon. We don’t want them to sneer at the second and third place runners up. Graciousness certainly has its place alongside pride.
Okay, so let’s say I’ve convinced you that pride can be a good thing. Haven’t I also agreed that pride can often become something worse, something others rightly perceive as a negative trait, something like arrogance, conceit, vanity? Isn’t there some value in modesty, which is the opposite of pride? My answer: modesty is not the opposite of pride. Modesty is the outward expression of our unwillingness to evoke or experience pride. In this sense, modesty is not good, not at all good and should not be used to temper pride.
For those who know me and my philosophy of empowerment coupled with good boundaries, you will likely already be guessing my answer to the question of how to temper pride to allow its full fruition without the trap of arrogance. We can temper pride, not with modesty, but with humility. What’s the difference? Modesty says: “I am not all that good at… (insert capacity or activity).” Modesty is nearly always contrived, attempted, if not downright false. When we express modesty, it is more obligation (others will expect me to downplay my talents, achievements, or what I have just done that makes me feel pride) than authentic feeling. No thanks. Humility says: “Even though I might be pretty good at… (insert capacity or activity), I am not that big of a deal, I am no better than anyone else, there is still so much I am not good at, I am merely human.” Or, as I often say to myself, sometimes to temper pride to avoid arrogance, “I am just some guy.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because the point goes back to something I said in my book, Firewalking on Jupiter, in the chapter called, “The Relief of Humility, I am just some guy.”
Pride is not in any way inconsistent with humility. I’d even go so far as to say, humility, real humility, the kind that reminds us always of our extraordinary limitations as faulty frail human beings, gives us permission to feel and express pride in the few things we do well, so we don’t have to worry so much that our pride is arrogance. If we feel both pride, when appropriate, and also humility when appropriate, we can let go of our fear that pride will be perceived by others as arrogance, vanity or conceit because we will know it isn’t any of those things and their perceptions are wrong; it is just pride, and pride is good, necessary, beneficial and often deserved. So go feel proud of something you’ve done!