Is Pride a Sin, a Necessity, or Something in Between?

Pride is a tricky thing…for me, at least. You grow up receiving praise for things you do, but also getting a heaping helping of “reality checks” where authority figures or peers tell you not to brag too much or get “too big for your britches.” Still, should you be proud of yourself or not? That’s where today’s rumination took me.

Pride and vanity are things I’ve struggled with since childhood. The problem, I suppose, is that you can take things too far. No one likes a constant braggart, nor do they want to be made to feel like a lesser person because I was feeling particularly proud of myself. In reaction to this unfortunate tendency, I suppose I shifted too far in the other direction in my adolescence: instead of gloating, I fell all the way down to something approaching self-abasement, which is also not healthy.

In the midst of this back-and-forth lives the slippery notion of self-esteem. Do you (or are you allowed to) feel good about who you are as a person or do you need a constant dose of people reminding you that they knew you back in the day and that “You’re not all that?”

The internet–the world’s repository of contradictory and often-misspelled wisdom–doesn’t help matters. The dialogue between pride and humility continues there, as well.

  • The Feel-Good Culture tries to perk you up with little sayings about why you’re “enough” just as you are; how you should take pride in overcoming your personal struggles; and how the world is just wrong if it doesn’t appreciate you as you are.
  • But then there’s the School of Tough Love, which provides you daily reminders of how you’re not nearly as good/smart/tough as [insert person/group/generation here]; how, no matter what you’re doing, you’re not “woke” enough, caring enough, or doing enough to make the world a better place; and how you need to be honest with yourself about your flaws.

So what’s the doubting thinker to do? How do you shape your inner life when the world itself can’t decide what people should be proud of? Depending on whom you read, human beings are the greatest creation in Earth’s animal kingdom or the worst scourge ever to infect the planet.

In the end, the problem is a philosophical one. And despite all the noise reverberating in your ears and across your social media feed, it’s a personal one.

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My father was fond of quoting one of the Catholic brothers who taught him in high school: “Humility is a true estimation of one’s worth.” In practical terms, this means (to me) honestly assessing one’s virtues and faults and, however you weigh them, understanding that however far you’ve come, there is always more to learn and that you can always be better.

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But how does this thinking affect your self-talk, your behavior with others, or your impact on the world at large?

  • Do you believe you’re smart/strong/talented enough to do X?
  • Do you take compliments with a sense of entitlement, deflect the accolade with self-deprecating humor, or just say, “Thank you,” and leave it at that?
  • Do you give yourself regular self-affirmations, not need them, think they’re silly, or feel yourself unworthy of them?
  • When you make a mistake, do you laugh it off, berate yourself, or just remind yourself not to do X again?
  • How do you face your fears? Do you gravitate toward the things you fear to tackle them head on, arrange your life to avoid them at all costs, or remain mindful of them as behaviors you need to improve for your own personal growth?

All of this can circle back to pride and whether you consider yourself worthy of respect: your own and others’.

For me, it’s a daily balancing act, and it can vary by situation. I’m practically fearless in my belief that I can handle professional or intellectual challenges; I’m nearly the opposite when it comes to social or emotional ones.

Typical example: this week a set of training courses I helped write/edit won an award from a human resources organization. It was satisfying to receive the recognition, but I debated with myself about whether to share the news on social media. In the end, I posted it on my personal and professional Facebook feeds, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now, I suppose, here. Not because I’m eager to demonstrate that I’m singularly awesome or superior to everyone (I’m well aware that training and development are a team effort), but because I felt that others should know I’m doing a good job. And yes, I’m willing to admit that I appreciate the attaboys. But that’s about as far as my braggadocio goes.

On the flip side, I’ve made errors and hurt others in my personal relationships. Some of those errors are months, years, or even decades in the past, and yet they live rent-free in my head as ongoing reminders that I am far from perfect.

So the inner debate continues: am I a good person or a bad person?

Despite my fearlessness, I’ve made my share of professional errors, too, and I’ve also had dear and remarkable relationships with some extraordinary people. I suppose, in the end, I keep coming back to my dad’s teacher’s formulation on humility. I need to keep a healthy and honest measure of my faults and abilities, my successes and failures, and to remind myself that–like others–I’m a continual work in progress and maybe, just maybe, worth being proud of myself.

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