Pride, Dignity, and Humility

October 23, 2018

We live in a world of seven billion people. As different as we all are, we have this in common. We all have imperfections in one way or another. Another thing we have in common is the way we handle our imperfections. Mostly, instead of addressing them directly, we try to hide them and instead exude an air of arrogance and defensiveness that helps no one. It creates distance between us and others. If we can’t be vulnerable, honest, and humble, our relationships can only go so far.

If we accepted ourselves and others as human; works in progress, we could see arrogance and pride as an obstacle to building strong relationships, and become both more accepting of others and more accepting of ourselves.

But isn’t it good to have some pride? Of course, with the right definition.The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says a positive definition is “a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by others.” But then there’s “a feeling that you are more important or better than other people” and “inordinate self-esteem.” This is a common, not-so-healthy pride, reflected in statements like, “He had too much pride to ask for help” or “her pride prevented her from admitting she was wrong.”

Since “pride” has conflicting definitions, Psychologist John Amodeo suggests a different word to affirm our worth and value: dignity. We might believe that healthy self-worth means taking pride in our achievements. But if our value is tied to our accomplishments or self-image, if our accomplishments define who we are, we set ourselves and others up for misery. Things that pass, or things we cannot control, are too fragile to handle our needs.

Amodeo says a more genuine and stable self-worth is based upon validating, affirming, and valuing ourselves as we truly are. Self-worth is part of living with dignity, which exists apart from any accomplishments. Achievements are an external source of gratification, which can lead to pride and arrogance, and when they are gone, lead to humiliation. In contrast, dignity can live inside us regardless of our successes and failures. We don’t have to prove anything to anybody—or even to ourselves. If an enterprise fails, this doesn’t mean that we’re a failure. If an attempt to communicate our feelings to our partner falls flat, we might feel sad, but we can feel good knowing we did our best. We can experience the dignity of having reached out to connect or to repair an injury to the relationship. We can experience the dignity of living with integrity.

Pride is listed in the Bible as one of the seven deadly sins. We know how that works. Over-confidence and pride make us feel small. Interestingly, though, pride is often driven by poor self-worth and shame. We feel so badly about ourselves that we compensate by feeling superior. We look for others’ flaws as a way to conceal our own. We criticize others as a defense against recognizing our own shortcomings.

It is pride that will keep us from acknowledging our human vulnerabilities. This pride makes us too uncomfortable to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I made a mistake.” When pride rules, we need to believe we’re always right. Relationships suffer because no one likes being with a know-it-all.

On the other hand, when we believe in our dignity and worth as children of God, we realize that we don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful and worthwhile. Humility welcomes people to us. We become approachable rather than intimidating. We don’t see ourselves as better or worse than anyone else. We are all in it together.

Pride is suffocating. Dignity and humility are freeing. We have worth because we are all humans created by God. Pride is a burden and a barrier we don’t need. Letting go of it gives us freedom to live light and move with joy through life.