Pride, say the sin scholars, led to our being expelled from Eden; Eve was flattered and ate.
Adam didn’t want to bother making his own meal and since there was no fast food in Paradise, he ate, too. It was downhill from there, leading to depravity, mortality, and Popeye’s-to-go.
Pride made Lucifer into the bad guy. Declaring in Milton’s version that he’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven, Lucifer went from being merely head chef in paradise to owning the first barbecue franchise. As much as history has sycophantically worshiped at the altar of success, it also delights in the downfall of the great, the boastful, and the powerful.
Act a little too cocky, a little too arrogant and the dogs of ruin begin yapping at your heels, led by someone just slightly less cocky and arrogant than you. Act a little too sanctimonious, and not only will the mob eventually rise up against you, but even your best friends will cheer them on.
It’s tougher to destroy the reputation of someone who says “I’m it for power and money” than it is to destroy the reputation of someone who says “I’m in it because I have been called to save the world,” but follows that with, “Please make all checks payable to …”
What are causes for pride in our lives? The easiest pride is the stuff we give away: pride in a child’s sweet singing voice or a husband’s homemade cake or even a favorite co-worker’s success–and such pride is downright accessible. But it’s harder to be proud of yourself in the right way.
And although there are no rights and wrongs in life, actually, there really ARE rights and wrongs in life.
If we didn’t believe that, there would be no humor. Remember what Virgina Woolf wrote in “The Captain’s Death Bed”? “One advantage of having a settled code of morals is that you know exactly what to laugh at.”
There are better ways to be proud of yourself than the guy I knew in college who wore a T-shirt saying “Yes, I Am Everything You’ve Ever Hoped For,” to which I could only mutter beneath my breath, “That makes you a bag of Snickers and a hundred-dollar bill.”
There’s no telling what will constitute grounds for pride. My cat is proud when she catches a wadded-up piece of paper in one paw, but then, so is my lawyer. My niece is proud of herself because she can spell well; I’ve never been able to spell well, and I am proud of that. My aged aunt was proud of never having had sex with anyone besides her husband, and my rapidly aging friend is proud because she has a new liaison going outside her marriage. You might be proud to own a fur coat, whereas your neighbor might wrap an inherited mink in a Hefty bag before throwing it away because she’s a card-carrying member of PETA.
One of the worst feelings in life is to once have been proud of something that later causes you shame: a love affair you bragged about that goes wrong; a career track you ostentatiously discussed that careens into a nose dive; an accomplishment you traded on that suddenly appears meaningless compared to someone else’s more substantial or original achievement. And one of the most triumphant moments can occur when something you fear might embarrass you suddenly somersaults and turns into a matter of pride.
Unlike lust or envy, pride seems as much a virtue as a vice. If we are too proud to behave like cowards or hypocrites or cheapskates, then pride has saved us from worse sins; if we are too proud to be vicious, callous or vengeful, then pride has offered itself to us as the least of all evils, a little bit of possible wickedness injected into our lives the way a little bit of a virus is injected in an inoculation to ward off graver illness.
When Pride shows up like a character out of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” however, all dressed up and ready to defy mortality itself, then it might indeed be a good time to edge your way out the door. There are usually a number of reliable indications signaling the moment at which Pride runs away with itself. It wasn’t a good sign that the builders of the Titanic apparently claimed “God Himself could not sink this vessel,” for example, and I for one would have wagged my finger reprovingly at Frankenstein when he was getting ready to create a whole new race of beings to call him master.
Interesting to see that the world usually does more than wag its collective finger at those creators of the master race, whether they attempt this with their own community’s approval or not. When one group becomes so swollen with pride that it considers itself immune from the slings and arrows of ordinary existence and so looks to others to carry its burden for it, it appears that the rest of us cannot stand it and thus bring the pedestal down. Such is the paradox of pride: a vice that is its own reward.
To hear my discussion of pride with award-winning NPR host, Connecticut’s Faith Middleton, I am proud to direct you to this link.
(adapted from an essay in The Chicago Tribune)