Monday, April 14, 2014

Can pride be humbling?

Most religious traditions are critical of pride and for a good reason. There is a kind of pride which gives us a self-sufficient arrogance in our own powers. This pride makes us self-enclosed and therefore closed off to any powers higher than ourselves. Little wonder, then, that religious traditions often warn against hubris, or seek to quieten the egoistic self, or seek to cultivate a reverent, outwardly turned humility.

However, if this is the type of pride to be avoided, there still remain aspects of pride that are either not harmful or that perhaps even help to promote a more humble type of outlook.

For instance, is it really a bad thing to take pride in our work? The sense of "pride" here simply means to have a standard of care in what we do; to be willing to work in a careful and concentrated way; and to create something of quality. Think of a craftsman who wants to create a beautiful, well-constructed piece of furniture; his mind will be quietly concentrated on the value of what he is working on (on something of value outside of himself) rather than on a self-vaunting arrogance.

Then there is a pride we feel in the achievements of our family, town or nation. The positive aspect to this kind of pride is that it begins with the individual feeling connected to something outside of, and larger than, his own egoistic self; it is a sharing of identity and endeavour and a recognition that you owe something of yourself to others. In this sense this kind of pride is also a kind of humility.


  1. This is a very good post.

    The sort of pride you describe as good can also be called admiration or respect.

    Pride in our work can be called respect for standards of quality. Pride in our culture or traditions can also be called admiration of them.

    As you say the kind of pride that is bad is self-pride. But we should be careful, because pride in work or culture can also be perverted into self-pride.

    A traditional artist can be proud of their work insofar as it adheres to standards of beauty. But a postmodern artist can also be "proud of their work" even when it is ugly and subversive - here they will defend it as "self-expression."

    And admiration for our culture can also be perverted into self-pride, as with the uglier forms of racial supremacism, where people think they are superior to others simply because of the achievements of their ancestors. So for instance I think Western classical music is more admirable than rap music, but I shouldn't think of myself as superior to a black person on that basis. After all, I didn't compose Beethoven's symphonies.

    I think where this becomes tricky is when we realize that the preservation of our tradition is impossible without also preserving ourselves. Culture doesn't just exist in museums, it is a living thing that must be renewed by each generation. And the only people who will preserve our culture is ourselves.

    So love of tradition necessitates self-preservation. I think self-preservation is different from self-pride, but it is easy to see why so many, on both the left and right, go wrong here and confuse traditionalism with prejudice and supremacism.

  2. This type of pride can also bring forth evil, albeit of a different kind. In some families there are let us say "great expectations". I was for instance supposed to be the great white hope of western civilization. When I failed there were rather unpleasant consequences, and to a certain extent still are. I'm happy to enjoy peace and quiet with my books and have no desire to become some sort of captain of industry constantly engaged in frenzied activity. It seems that many people have a desire to live vicariously through their children, this is however doomed to failure as it is only human nature to never be truly satisfied with the attainment of this that and the other as the mind has made it out to be greater than it really is. There is always the feeling "That's all? I thought it would be different somehow..." Self-love and self will cause the greater part of mankind to be miserable during the entirety of their short passage through the daylight which is lamentable but unavoidable as the fulfillment of their own will is more dear to them than anything else. As St. Philip Neri, if I remember right, said "Most men are the carpenters of their own crosses." Only by true resignation to the most Holy Will of God is it possible to attain anything resembling true happiness in this vale of tears. May Our Lady obtain for us all a happy death so that we may finally arrive at that place where God Himself will wipe away all tears, as they say in Ireland, God save all here.

    1. Anon, I agree that there is a possible negative outcome relating to "pride in one's child's achievements". When it's a question of being proud that one's children have become upstanding and decent members of a community it seems to be a healthy and natural kind of pride to me (e.g. a father's pride in his strong and capable sons). But in modern life there is a great emphasis on the idea of "success via one's children's occupational outcomes" - particularly one's daughters. I've seen that backfire many times myself.