Prompt: What is pride and what is its ethical value?
Pride is a double-edged sword. It can be both a virtue and a vice.
Pride is a sense of one’s own worth, of self-worth. Without pride, we may lack self-respect and self-love. If we lack pride, or if we have too much pride, or if we have the wrong sort of pride, we may also lack the ability to respect and love others.
Pride can derive from internal and external sources.
You might feel pride for things you’ve done, things you yourself have accomplished, especially if they were difficult. Pride derived from such internal sources might be called intrinsic pride.
People also feel pride for being part of a group, for things they possess, things they’ve inherited, things utterly beyond their control such as their race, ethnicity, nationality, even their hometown or their favorite sports team. Pride derived from such external sources might be called external pride.
Take a moment now. Recall some time when you felt especially proud. What was the source of that pride? How much did it have to do with you, personally? How much did it have to do with your place in the universe? How much work? How much luck?
The distinction between internal and external is not so sharp as it might first appear. We accomplish nothing in a vacuum. We exist in a web of interdependence. Even our most private, most personal accomplishments may be attributed in part to external factors. Yet at the same time, even the factors furthest outside our control impinge upon our identities.
It may be more helpful to think of a continuum from internal to external, from deep inside your self to the outer reaches of the cosmos. The source of any pride you feel can be located somewhere along this continuum. Meditating on this continuum may be beneficial.
Personal pride may become more problematic as a function of how extrinsic it is. Pride based on external factors can fuel nationalistic and fascistic arrogance and can be used to justify domination of other people.
Pride based on membership in an oppressed or marginalized group may be empowering, but pride based on membership in a privileged group can be pernicious. This is exacerbated because of the fact that people are often ignorant of their own privilege. It’s invisible to them.
For example, a man might take pride in earning the highest wage in his family or being the most successful person from his neighborhood. But his pride would be somewhat misplaced if he did not recognize the various privileges which allowed him to attain this status. His parents may have paid for his education. His wife may not earn as much because females are paid less for the same work. He may have benefited from his race or social standing or any of a number of other factors. Recognizing privilege does not erase pride, but it may tend to diminish it somewhat, to throw it into a healthier perspective.
Extrinsic pride is often based in identification with a group. That group may be quite small or quite large. It is possible to feel pride in being part of the human race, or in being part of the web of all life. This is a rare but sublime experience, to be cherished, nurtured and cultivated whenever possible.
The other critical factor with pride is quantity. When we feel proud we feel exulted, and this pleasure can deceive us. Too much pride can make us forget our humanity and our imperfections. We may try to live beyond our means, to reach beyond our grasp, with negative consequences. Pride may blind us to our faults and limitations, so that we fail to apologize when we should, and fail to correct our mistakes. Ancient wisdom warns of this, in such myths as the Tower of Babel or the Flight of Icarus. A modern tale of tragic pride comes to us in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Whoever indulges excessive pride courts destruction.