Pride is one of the most powerful human emotions. It is generally viewed negatively. But if harnessed rightly it can do us a world of good. If we allow it to take us in the wrong direction it will destroy us with relish. Once it grows on us it is not very easy to shake it off.
Let us begin with our own countries. There is a great amount of happiness when we feel proud of our country. But what do we feel proud about? Pride is always about something. Are we to be proud of its GDP, the number of billionaires, its military might, or its capacity to bully other countries? Or should we be proud of the soul of the country? The soul of a country is not in its nuclear submarines, expressways, factories, and skyscrapers, all of which can be destroyed in an instant. It is in its culture and traditions and social interactions. It is in its art, literature, and poetry. It is in human relationships and human values. It is in its capacity for forgiveness. It is in family bonding. It is in what the people believe is the ultimate purpose and goal of life. Our souls are inextricably intertwined with the soul of our country and our fulfillment depends on how close the two are bonded. But pride in our country should not create a halo around our heads with a holier-than-thou attitude towards other countries and civilizations. Everyone loves and is proud of their own country. Instead, when we direct this pride within, its power can eliminate the country of its evils and strengthen its good legacy. If this pride is directed outside, we will simply be basking in the glory of our past and keep moralizing.
Pride is the mind’s most formidable weapon to keep the separate sense of self alive. This self can go overboard with pride. A counter-weapon against unhealthy pride is gratitude. Success can make a person feel that he is solely responsible for it, whereas it is impossible without everyone’s help. He may be the main driver, yet there are too many factors that are outside the control of any one individual that contributes to success. When you invoke gratitude, you are acknowledging the fact that everything that happens in your life has an element of outside support, however small it may be. Either we have an inborn talent or other people have helped us in reaching where we have reached. Even so-called self-made people need outside help. A book may have helped, or a teacher, or even a casual remark from someone.
A beautiful woman can easily fall into the trap of pride when everyone keeps admiring her physical features. But her beauty is not her doing. She was born with it. If she forgets that, her ego will make her believe that her beauty is because of her. Pride will destroy her beauty. The beauty of an innocent face is beyond compare. But if every time she looks in the mirror and expresses gratitude for her beauty and acknowledges the fact that it is a gift of nature and that her contribution is limited, then the chances of pride bloating her head are lower. This is true of any talent or skill which is innate. Some artists who have extraordinary talent can get carried away by the adulation and begin to think that they created the talent and not just nurtured it. With such pride comes a nasty arrogance that puts everyone off. You can sense such arrogance from a mile. It is an unmistakable sign of pride gone astray. But when great people display genuine humility, it is so beautiful and heart-warming. You simply fall in love with them.
We need to express pride in our children as it is one of the foundations of self-esteem and growth. But we need to be careful how we communicate their achievements to others. If it is to another achiever, we can go full blast. But if it is to those who have not achieved anything then it must be done with sophistication, care, and empathy. It should be underplayed and understated lest this pride awakens jealousy. Proud parents are some of the happiest people in this world, though children don’t always realize this. The need to feel proud of their children drives many parents to push their wards beyond their capacity and endurance. This may feel like torture to the children sometimes. Pride is a tough task master and it operates from a sense of urgency. But pride in our children need not be directed outward only to blow our trumpet to the whole world. It can be directed inward as pride in the flowering of human potential, in seeing the blossoming of a fine individual. It is more important that they shine in our eyes than in the eyes of the world. More than outward achievements we should be taking greater pride in the character of our children. That would be our gift to humanity. Children can also easily misread our lack of display of pride in them as a lack of love for them. Hence our communication with them must be extra careful so as not to create such a misunderstanding. This is especially so when there are two siblings, one of whom is an achiever. Pride can also lead us to overlook our children’s negative behaviors and pamper them beyond limits.
One area where pride has done the most damage is in the area of intelligence. If you call a person intelligent, super intelligent, or brilliant he thinks that he is eligible for the Nobel prize. It is the ultimate compliment. This overrated faculty of the mind dominates the world today. Qualities of the heart like love, compassion, and kindness are given no importance. It is all about intellect and nothing else. This is where pride plays its dirty tricks. People endowed with intelligence feel so proud of their intelligence that they think that they are God’s gift to mankind. The truth of the matter is that the problems of this world are not going to be solved by this kind of intelligence. But we are fooled to believe that it will do so. Wisdom and insight are superior to intellect. Intelligence is a gift but can also be cultivated and nurtured. We need to be grateful for this gift. Whenever we get a brilliant idea, we need to be grateful that the idea popped into our heads from nowhere. Instead, pride claims ownership of the idea and tells you that you are the author of that idea and that you are a brilliant guy. This puffs up the ego. This is the great illusion we live with not recognizing the fact that original ideas are gifts of nature that are received by an open mind and cannot be manufactured by a mind that has access only to memories. How can you claim ownership of something that does not belong to you? Ideas don’t belong to anybody. If ideas could speak, they will tell you that they are free. They are just there waiting to enter any open mind. Just because it entered your head does not make it yours. Does the air in your lungs belong to you? But pride will tell you that any thought that manifests in your head belongs to you. The moment you realize that this is not true, pride transmutes itself into gratitude. This is one of the greatest transmutations you can achieve. When intellectual pride is directed properly and is given a heart it can achieve wonders.
A happy marriage is one in which both spouses are proud of each other. It does not require a great hunting expedition to discover something in our partner that we can be proud of. Don’t look too hard. It is right there in front of you. In this relationship pride in external achievements should not be the sole criterion. Instead of pride over designations and titles and bank balances the personal characteristics of the individual and the qualities of the being are what we should be proud of.
Pride has the extraordinary ability to camouflage itself as humility. With pride, appearances can be very deceptive. It reveals its true colors when you compare someone with his peers. Since pride and the feeling of superiority go together, comparison with a contemporary will provoke hidden unhealthy pride to reveal itself. But when a person truly appreciates his competitor or contemporary you will know that he has conquered his pride. Pride makes its entry when we view our position as a status instead of a responsibility. Spiritual teachers must guard themselves against attacks of pride as they are in a very vulnerable position.
Pride need not be only for one’s achievements and successes. It can be for one’s character also. One should feel genuinely proud about one’s integrity and about the finer human values and traits others and we possess. These are intangible qualities, so we don’t pay much attention to them. But these are the true gems of life. But feeling proud of them should not make us feel holier than thou and indulge in moralizing about other people’s lack of such qualities. Moreover, these qualities have to be felt by other people and not publicized by us. We may feel bad that no one recognizes them. But that is pride talking. These higher qualities are not cultivated for advertising and appreciation. They are cultivated because of their own intrinsic goodness and the purity of mind that they create. It is not for someone else’s benefit but our own. Unhealthy pride doesn’t like it since it wants appreciation. But healthy pride likes it and is motivated by it. Pride for something in and for itself is different from pride for something because others are going to appreciate it. Pride for the qualities you possess that made you successful is more important than pride for the success itself. Focusing on success is what the world does because that is all they see. But should we be doing the same? If success has come at the cost of someone else’s misery, then there is nothing to be proud of. If it has come from unethical actions, then what is there to be proud of? Do we need to be proud of blood diamonds? By shifting pride to achievement, we are successfully blinding ourselves to the means of how we achieved the success, which we would rather not confront. Pride is cunning. It is capable of self-deception.
Pride can force us to stick to our ideas even though we know they are wrong. It will not allow us to give up on some foolish proposal, an unworkable idea, or a false assumption. It has such power that even though we fully know it is unworkable we will go ahead with it. When in the grip of false pride our judgments go awry. Letting go of unhealthy pride requires awareness of how it works both in us and in others and the harm it does. It will require a willingness to take some amount of ego beating. But to win over pride one should be willing to sacrifice some ego in the process. It will make us feel more human. Giving up our pet schemes and ideas is like saying goodbye to an old friend. But it needs to be done. Otherwise, pride will close our minds and prevent new ideas from entering.
To achieve higher productivity and job satisfaction we need to feel pride in the organization we work for and the job we do. This pride is possible only when the organization has a heart and operates from higher values. Pride is in what the organization stands for like impeccable service to the customer, quality, innovation, care for the employees, and so on. The organization’s values must appeal to you for you to be proud of it. To feel proud of an organization that stands for nothing more than profit is unhealthy pride. It reflects on the kind of value systems we have. Our pride in something reflects the kind of person we are. Examine your pride and you will know what you stand for.
Similarly, to be proud of the product or service we are selling, we must genuinely feel that the product or service offers superior value to society. You will never be proud of selling a shoddy product. If you do, you are lowering your own sense of values. Healthy pride generates confidence and positive self-esteem, while unhealthy pride generates arrogance and conceit and distorts our value systems.
Since pride and superiority over others go together if we are able to disassociate the two, we would have achieved a great victory. We can then have the best of both worlds. We can be motivated by the enormous energy of pride and enjoy its benefits while at the same time not being affected by the detrimental effects of the feeling of superiority. This feeling of superiority generated by pride, which wants to make us feel unique and different from the rest of the crowd, is a relationship destroyer. No one likes this superior attitude since it makes him or her feel inferior and lesser human being. Not only does it destroy relationships with others, it also destroys our relationship with ourselves. We are then relating to a false self, a fragile self, a self-founded on a delusion. The day we meet someone who is superior to us this self will crumble. We can then only have relationships with those who keep our feeling of superiority intact.