A bit of self-pride seems part of the positive trait of self-esteem.
Possible danger of self-pride
Yet we speak of pride before a fall. The story of Icarus is about a young man’s attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall into the sea where he drowned. In flying too high he is often seen as possessing overconfident arrogance. The proverb ‘Pride goes before a fall’ seems apt, implying suffering for those too cocky for their own good.
On the other hand, sounding superior and important are favoured traits in today’s tough competitive economic climate. Even if you are not in business, you need to market your work skills in order to keep your own job or get another one.
“At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.” (Muhammad Ali)
And it is said that it can become counter-productive to be modest because you may not be taken seriously.
So is it really true that you will be like Icarus and suffer in some way as a result of being full of yourself and your ability? What’s so bad about a bit of self-pride?
Noticing the sacred in others rather than self-pride in oneself
In his book Essential Spirituality, Roger Walsh writes about noticing the sacred in other people.
He tells a story about an old woman sitting by the roadside outside her town who was approached by a traveller who asked “What kinds of people live in this town?”
“What were the people like in your home town?” queried the old woman.
“Oh, they were terrible!” fumed the traveller. “Liars, cheats, incompetents, you couldn’t trust any of them. I was glad to leave.”
“You’ll find the people in this town just the same.” Responded the old woman.
Not long afterwards, she was approached by a second traveller who also questioned her about the people in the town.
“”What were the people like in your home town?” she asked.
“Oh, they were wonderful!” exclaimed the traveller. “Fine, honest, hard-working, it was a privilege to be with them. I was so sorry to leave.”
“You’ll find the people in this town just the same. “responded the old woman.
So, how you see others and what you say about them reveals more about yourself than about them. You don’t want to seem to be a know-it-all full of self-pride who fails to notice the value in others. Few people want to appear big-headed about their own abilities at the cost of the abilities of others. Moreover, seeing what is valuable about others helps you be honest with yourself about your own limitations even when this is uncomfortable.
Seeing the sacred in life itself
Spiritually-minded people acknowledge a source of deeper energy and wisdom beyond their own mind. They ask how can one not feel humbled by the wonders of the universe, or when seeing the power of altruistic love manifest in the most extreme circumstances. We are so often exposed to the scientific view, of an evolution without purpose and a universe as a meaningless machine, that no transcendent sacred force — whatever we want to call it — is allowed to exist.
But then we are pulled up short by tantalizing glimpses, of a mysterious quality within nature — perhaps triggered by a beautiful sunset, the wisdom of birds and animals, or the vastness of space — glimpses that offer a truly awe-inspiring experience of something beyond oneself. At such moments the mundane world is transfigured.
Such experiences, can lead to acknowledging a higher good and truth that exists beyond your own ability, and which is the source of inspiration for human effort. In this way of thinking, the focus is not on the strengths of humanity but on the strengths of the Divine presence within the human soul and accepting one’s dependence on this presence for finding tolerance, patience, and other virtue. Not, as do some Christians, in sanctimoniously promoting themselves as Godly and thus betraying a self-pride in being better than others. Instead, by genuinely bowing down to an origin of all that is good, the individual does not feel empty but full.
“Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.” (Blaise Pascal)
Neither need one indulge in self-abasement as do some believers but rather celebrate one’s ability to be uplifted and share the spiritual power available: not in denying the inner strength in oneself but rather in recognising that it is received from a higher Divine source. A bit of self-pride might not be an appropriate attitude for those with this kind of true humility.
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems