Embracing Pride (Part 1)

Talk about unlearning – this is one for me.  The word pride has always given me several different thoughts and reactions – and yet I could never put them together to come to a conclusion of what they meant and how I should or should not apply them in my life.  Some studying has helped me to adjust some of my thinking.  Let me explain.

American English is a language that has words which carry many multiple meanings – especially when you mix it with the slangs that become part of the language and culture of communication.   English is not the oldest language in existence.  And many of it’s words derive from root words of other languages such as French, and Greek etc.  Therefore, the process can be complex for non natives when it comes to mastering the words and their meanings.  For instance, when we speak of love it has basically one definition.  And we roll it off our tongues quickly; i.e. “I love you baby” or “I love that song” – {or that car or my pet etc.}  I overheard a conversation once when a man told a woman he loved her, and she responded, “Like you love the old women at your church?”  And yet in the Hebrew language there are several words to describe the different forms of affection and devotion to describe a love for a parent, versus a love for a pet, versus a love for a significant other.  In English, we are left with one word and with that word the speaker and the listener are left with the task of deciphering which clear definition is really intended.  Or as Run DMC said back in the day, “Not bad meaning bad – but bad meaning good!”

This is the problem with the word pride.  I was taught to shun the word and embrace a singular meaning.  This comes mostly from my teachings reflective of the bible from scriptures such as Proverbs which talks about pride coming before a fall – how God hates pride and so forth.  We are taught to give all the praise and glory to God even when we as people accomplish something good.  I embraced those virtues so even when I’ve accomplished some of my own personal goals or saw some success I’ve earned through discipline and hard work, I have always been careful to reference God and take no personal reward for the accomplishment.

An example that comes to mind was when some years ago I formed, managed and played on a men’s basketball team and we won the league championship at St. Louis University.  As the buzzer sounded giving us an exciting one point victory, while all of my teammates jumped for joy and congratulated one another, I knelled down and thanked God for allowing us to win.  I was more humbled by the victory than anything else because I had built the team from scratch and I knew what we had been though as a team to get there.  It was very personal to me for reasons I won’t elaborate on now.  The main thing is that I didn’t want to give the appearance to God that I was celebrating or enjoying this too much.  The whole experience was actually very anti-climatic. 

Because I did not have a complete assessment of the whole picture – I did not enjoy this victory as I should have.  With pride I had one word to reference – and one reference to define it.  There are other similar words we have within our language such as arrogance, but somehow or another they always seem to find connection back to the word pride. 

There is a 7 book series by various authors which deals with each of the 7 deadly sins.  According to Professor Michael Eric Dyson who penned the book dealing with the sin of Pride in his book by the same name, the words defining this vice were first separated into their respective categories in order to reflect a more definitive understanding of the differing meanings.  But then they were combined later on.  Writes Dyson,

…Evagrius of Pontus was one of the first Christian thinkers to refer to cardinal sins-there were eight of them in his reckoning -and vainglory and pride snagged the sixth and seventh spots on his list.  It wasn’t until late in the sixth century that Pope Gregory I boasted pride to, well, its pride of place among the sins.  Actually it was superbia, the Latin equivalent of the Greek hubris, that Gregory’s list until the concepts were subsequently combined in pride, which eventually earned the premium nod on most conventional list.  Gregory held that “pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as scripture bear witness: ‘Pride is the beginning of all sin.’

With this revelation and in reading the book completely – I have come to understand that pride in its separate manifestations can mean different things – and are not at all synonymous.  As stated above there is vainglory – which defined in my perception is an arrogant way of perceiving ones self for example.

As creative beings, we have the power to re-define words and their meanings to fit into our spectrum.  We do this all the time but more so on a social communicative level – like in the 70s we used to say, “That was cold-blooded.”  Cold-blooded had no reference to the reptiles in my science books – but to describe for example: an attractive woman, the style and shine of a vehicle, the fashion in which someone did someone wrong, or an outfit.  We used these interchangeably and most times if you were in on the lingo, you knew which meaning held serve.

This is the same way for pride.  As Al Pacino said in “The Devil’s Advocate,” Vanity, (or Vainglory) my favorite sin!”  This speaks of the temptation man falls into when his ambition supersedes his core values which will lead to a fall.  Pride can be used as a form of stubbornness when a person will not receive instruction or correction – in claiming that he/she must always be right.  These are the negative sides of pride.  For me the negative form of pride in short is when one exaults himself above another in thought, word, or deed.  This is not an issue of status, but of the heart.  If there is some circumstance, position, amount of money, status, knowledge, etc. that allow one to place himself above another in his heart – that is vainglory or vanity or the bad side of pride.

But there are also virtuous definitions as well.  One can have pride in being good and excellent at what he/she does.  Pride in this sense is the same as having a standard that says value will not be compromised.  I have participated in sporting events when my wanting to be my best cause me to push myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish in order to claim sporting victories against better skilled athletes.  When I check the spelling and grammar in my writing – or double check the processes of an assignment at the office – my standard of excellence is a source of pride. 

Another virtue of the proper pride is that it sets limitations when necessary.  We will not be abused mentally or physically by others when we have proper pride.   Proper pride (what I will call dignity)

In the biblical sense there is a scripture in Romans where it says, “do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think.”  By the text I surmise there is a level of high thinking that we should embrace. 

Though I hate arrogance, (yet another word similar to vainglory) even when I see it in myself, there is nothing wrong and everything right with having a sense of personal excellence.  The will manifest in love of and confidence in self – though not in the degradation of others to justify the love and confidence.  Reality says there is no competition among unique beings.  My struggle – my task is to become as great as I can possibly be by maximizing my own talents and gifts – and then displaying them into the world where rewards will come.  Finally whether one has pride or is vain-glorious is an inward issue.  Sometimes others can see whether we are full of ourselves, but with a bit of quiet reflection we can see for ourselves and must judge for ourselves where we really are.  I want to embrace the good pride of excellence within the humility of love and servant-hood.  I cannot accept credit for gifts that The Creator has given me – but I can enjoy using these gifts in service to others while reaping some personal rewards with an inward satisfaction when my light shines.  When rewards come, I should celebrate and enjoy them, knowing that they were earned.

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