A short note on how pride does not pay bills, along with
some other helpful tips . . .
The word “pride,” and its adjective “proud,” have taken on diverse meanings over the centuries. In our age, it is common to hear the word used positively, as in “I am proud of my daughter – she is first in her class at school.” Of the words that comprise what were called the “seven deadly sins” – lust, greed, wrath, pride, sloth, gluttony, and envy – it is only Pride that has acquired a positive connotation.
Pride is often used to mean a sort of self-appreciation, but here, I use it in its original sense – that of excessive regard for oneself and a selfish and arrogant sense of dignity. The dangers of pride do not lie in appreciating your achievements. Rather, pride is harmful because it endangers your ability to succeed, both personally and professionally. Pride renders you unable to take criticism, unable to take orders, and hence unable to deal with reality.
As pride comes from within, so it must be defeated from within. For most of my life I had a “pride problem,” even though I thought I was humble. The fact was that I was only humble when it suited me – which is not really being “humble” at all.
A Master of Deception
For those who suffer from pride, life will be one long painful lesson in humility. Life does not like proud people. And hence we have the saying, “Pride comes before a fall.” In my case, life knocked me down again and again, though I didn’t change my sense of pride. It was not until I examined the causes of my falls, rather than the events themselves, that I realized I had a serious pride problem. All of the humiliation in the world cannot destroy pride on its own; it is something that, as it is inborn, you have to address yourself.
Pride is an excess of confidence, i.e. arrogance. The Greeks had a word for the type of pride that is self-destructive, which they called “hubris.” It is unfortunately a word that is no longer part of common speech, as it is useful in capturing how pride leads us to delusions which are harmful to others and to ourselves. In Asia, this sense of groundless, uncompromising pride is found in the concept of “Face.” Having lived in the Far East for 15 years, I can safely say that this concept is responsible for a lot of bad decisions and problems.
When you make decisions based on your pride, you are not thinking rationally or clearly. You are prioritizing yourself over Reason and over others. Indeed, pride is a master of deception. Pride also encourages the “all or nothing” approach: “It’s my way or the highway.” Pride congeals with many things to make them worse – fatigue, failure, fear. I had a bad mixture of anxiety (fear of the unknown) and pride. It resulted in me losing my temper far too often.
As such, pride is also an enormous obstacle to success. As a salesman, what hindered me most from enjoying my job and succeeding was that I didn’t like people telling me “No.” Who did I think I was? God? Of course people are going to tell you “No,” just as you are free to say “No” to others. Successful salespeople do not allow themselves to be stepped on, but they know that being proud will get in the way of business. As one of my friends puts it, “Pride does not pay bills.”
A Life Lesson
Suppressing one’s pride is not easy, and in my case, I asked for help from above. God gave me an interesting lesson. My family wanted to go on an important trip to see our ancestral roots, and frankly I could not afford to go. I stressed and stressed about this trip, how it would severely damage my finances, though my pride would not allow me to tell them. Finally, with the figures of flight costs and hotels staring me in the face, push came to shove, and I had to tell them I wouldn’t be going.
This was a lesson in pride, that pride cannot change certain realities. But the lesson continued. My father wrote back and said that the trip was really important to the family, and that he and my mother would pay for my expenses. My initial, gut feeling was to refuse. I didn’t like people to pay for things for me – after all, I had my pride. But what actual benefit was I actually getting out of my pride here? This was what I pondered.
I had to choose: to stick with my pride and say “No,” which would have hurt everyone involved (including me, as I really wanted to go); or to say “Yes,” swallow my pride, and make everyone — including myself — happy. I have always been very independent, and have taken great pride in my independence. I thought I needed no one, and Life proved me wrong again and again. This, here, was my introduction to seeing how helpful it could be if I suppressed my pride. I said “Yes,” and we had a wonderful trip.
“Be not ashamed to be helped,” says Marcus Aurelius, “for it is thy business to do thy duty like a soldier in the assault on a town. If you are lame, you cannot mount up on the battlements alone, but with the help of another.”
Pride is one of the more difficult aspects of character to control. It is very psychological. Nevertheless, here are methods that have worked for me, when I am feeling prideful:
- Think about how much you dislike it when others make a decision based on pride.
- Look at the full context, the bigger picture: how does this situation damage your well-being, aside from your pride?
- Think of great leaders, and how often they must swallow their pride to get things done. Surely you admire bosses who take your suggestions, and who are willing to change their minds if they are wrong.
- Remember that pride goes against Wisdom, and that the latter is something that we all want more of. We’ll talk more about Wisdom in a later chapter.
- Finally, no one has ever attributed either their success or happiness to pride. It is an obstacle to both.
As mentioned, pride is a difficult character trait to manage, and it will take time. View each instance of overcoming pride as a victory, and as a step on the road to greater clarity.
—Tom McKinley, Winning the Fight to Be Happy