ON PRIDE AND HUMILITY
Many cultures of the world follow a tradition where humility is a desirable attribute, and pride is to be scorned. Nowhere is this more true than in societies where Christian dogma predominates. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” categorized pride as a deadly sin; a unique situation in that a text, which believers universally acknowledge as fictional, is often treated as doctrine.
How do we define pride and humility? Because the Abrahamic position on behaviour clearly conflicts with the innate human need to project Alpha status for the purposes of mate selection and establishment of pecking order, Western culture is rife with paradoxes. Capitalism was created from Calvinist doctrine, yet people are told to show pride in their work and accomplishments. Individuals are supposed to be proud to be an American, and of whatever the government designates as a national achievement. You are instructed to be proud of whichever minority you belong to. All this in a country utilizing a system constructed under strict Christian guidelines.
Society creates contradictory standards in the quest for political-correctness. You can be “Black and proud”, but having “white pride” brands you as the most abominable of bigots. “Gay” pride has become part of our vernacular, yet suggesting that you are proud of your heterosexuality implies a negative bias toward homosexuality.
Our perception of the actions of others is overtly subjective. When someone you admire boasts of their accomplishments, they are “rightly” proud of what they have done; yet when a person you dislike does the same, they are a braggart. If an individual you respect acknowledges their abilities, they are self-assured; while one you hate is conceited. If both minimize these abilities, one demonstrates humility, and the other, false modesty.
The problem is not pride versus humility, but rather an improper sense of what these emotions represent. If someone is intelligent, and has had this independently verified, then it is a fact that they have an above-average ability to reason. Hence, when they say they possess an exceptional intellect, it is a statement of fact.
Intelligence is not an accomplishment, but the result of genetics and an adequate diet during the formative years. It is not necessarily a positive attribute, for human intelligence can be blamed for much of the damage done to our biosphere, and has put man in danger of extinction. Intellect without wisdom and knowledge can yield purely evil results. Therefore having superior intelligence is, by itself, no reason for pride, and in fact is cause for embarrassment if one has failed to realize their potential.
Likewise, ethnicity and, in most cases, sexual orientation are genetic happenstance; they are not achievements. Nationality is not a matter of choosing where you will be born. Deciding to emigrate to a particular country is not simply wishing to be a member of that nation, but a desire to enjoy the advantages of being a member.
Being proud of things you have no control over, and that are of questionable worth, is inappropriate. Pride requires that we prioritize; the concept exists because something worthy of the emotion must have a value superior to that of the alternatives, otherwise it is inapplicable. Stating that you are proud of having ten toes is a pointless assertion when everyone has ten toes; it has significance wholly through the implication that having nine or eleven toes is inferior. The word ‘pride’ can only have a linguistic application when used in a qualitative manner. Being proud of one’s intelligence requires that a lack thereof be perceived as a negative attribute. Being proud of one’s race demands that other races be considered of lower rank.
By categorizing differences we make them significant. The reason we have “black” pride is due to the fact that historically Caucasoids have treated members of the Negroid race as inferior. This is certainly an unreasonable bias, but by utilizing a very transparent form of reverse psychology, the inference is that ethnic distinctions do matter, and racial pride is meant to compensate for a perceived inadequacy.
Being humble about something such as your height is as intrinsically absurd as being proud of it; each implies superiority. It follows that expressing humility over inherent differences between individuals establishes that you feel you possess a characteristic warranting pride.
Obviously, some inherent variances are significant, just as circumstances can render one person’s skills inferior to that of another; but would you tell an individual who was born without arms, that you are proud to have two? Would you say you have pride in your ability to walk, while speaking with someone who had lost their legs to an accident?
In instances involving predestined qualities, pride often masks insecurity. Although White Supremacists appear to project only hatred, the underlying emotion is fear. The obvious includes their concerns over “others” taking jobs from Caucasians, or that the Caucasoid race will become extinct due to a lower relative reproductive rate; but these superficial fears overlay personal problems. In this case, and others like it, racists cling to ethnic pride because they feel they have achieved nothing which warrants self-esteem. In their minds, they are nothing without their affiliation with ideals that intimidate, and hence imply dominance; and feel significant through association, rather than accomplishment.
Pride and humility are more aptly applied to deeds, but perhaps too easily. For instance, you may have been recognized for your exceptional performance of a task in the workplace, and for this you feel proud. Another employee may have invested the same effort, yet due to inherent shortcomings, did not achieve satisfactory results. Each of you has done your utmost, yet one is praised and the other feels disappointment.
Employers encourage staff to be proud of their work because clearly it is in their best interests to have employees performing at an optimum level; but ideally this should not be an issue. Doing your best at anything should be a matter of routine, for nothing is more important to happiness than a sense of self-worth.
Having pride in one’s own accomplishments implies that one could do less. Failing to realize your potential may be easier, but it is a betrayal of your own self-esteem. Being proud of having exceeded one’s own expectations indicates that one had only underestimated their abilities, and in reality simply lived up to potential in the first place. Comparing your accomplishments to those of less adept individuals means little, for there will always be those who can be surpassed by practically everyone. Your own potential is the only relevant measure of personal achievement.
Humility is often used to avoid obligation; if a person acknowledges that they have the skills to perform at a higher level, then others may expect no less. Being humble can be a defense mechanism, where achievements contradict a poor self-image, and the deed is more easily seen as the exception rather than the rule; a fear of failure perpetuating the problem.
People can be proud of the actions of their spouse or child, and perhaps this is the most appropriate application of the concept. Of course, when you take pride in the conduct of a person you are closely associated with, you do not perceive it in the same way as pride in your own deeds. Most people experience it as an altruistic appreciation of the efforts of someone they care about. Although pride may not be the most precise of terms under these circumstances, we tend to refer to it in such a manner for succinctness. There is a subconscious aspect as well, where some are actually taking a portion of the credit, due to their positive influence or good genes. Granted these factors do contribute to the success of others; but to reinforce exceptional behaviour, it is best that they feel solely responsible for their proficiencies. To be happy for them, or honoured to be a part of their lives, eliminates that which pride implies.
From an idealistic perspective, the sensations of pride and humility should be replaced by self-realization. If we are fortuitously born with attributes that provide us with an advantage in life, it is not a matter of pride, but opportunity. If we exceed our own expectations, it is a demonstration of what we are truly capable of. If we appear to shine in the eyes of others, our efforts are yielding results.
When pride becomes irrelevant, because we see it as living to our potential, then humility likewise changes to an acceptance of personal obligation, rather than a social or psychological instrument for “excusing” positive behaviour. We either perform to potential, or fail to invest the effort; there is no pride when every endeavor involves the same effort, and no humility when such effort is only what we expect of ourselves.