94. Pride - Is It So Bad?

May 31, 2013

When my children were young I bought a cassette tape (remember those?) of a Noddy story. In the story Noddy has just got his brand new yellow car and is as proud as punch. He drives around the town waving at everyone, tooting his horn, a smile all over his face, unable to contain his delight. People do not necessarily share his delight, and there are grumblings and rumblings amongst the town folk about this disgraceful display of one-upmanship.  Needless to say, Noddy soon comes a cropper, running his little car into a brick wall while busy waving at someone. Let that be a lesson to you, Noddy. (I never played the tape to my children.) 


The word 'pride' has two common meanings. It can mean a feeling of satisfaction with yourself, or someone or something you identify with. Or it can mean an inflated opinion of yourself, vanity, arrogance, the opposite being either humility or guilt. 


The problem is that these two meanings are not always distinct in our minds and if we're not careful we can end up thinking it's not ok to feel good about ourselves. This week's tip explores. 
 
I play in a tennis singles league at my local club and last Saturday I played one of my matches. My opponent was a very pleasant young woman who had some great strokes and annoyingly managed to be, it felt, in every part of the court at the same time.  But in the end maturity (and therefore consistency) prevailed and, without going into the tawdry business of scores, let's just say it was a creditable victory. I cannot tell you how delighted I was. I was taken aback by my delight, such an unedifying and un-British thing to be so happy at winning. But there it was, undeniable, I just couldn't take the smile off my face. 
 
I present this to you with some humility as I feel it to be a sorry reflection of my psyche. Pride is, after all, a deadly sin. Re-running rallies in my mind which had my opponent's lithe form careering from one side of the court to another (not withstanding her hangover from a Friday night drinking session) while I stood calmly the other side of the net is hardly the kind of thing that you expect to result in a fast track to heaven.  
 
But there it is. Pride. You can deny it, suppress it, be ashamed of it, but it will still be there, an integral part of the human psyche.  

I have to say that it is unlikely that I would be telling you this if I hadn't Googled 'pride' and found a fascinating article in a 2009 edition of Scientific American, "Pride: Deadly Sin or Social Lubricant?" It describes a study in which a group of people were given a spatial problem to solve. Half the group were then told they had done a fantastic job, while the other group were not given any feedback. In a subsequent team task, 'both teammates and outside observers rated proud participants as more dominant and as more likable than participants who had not been tricked into feeling proud'.  

"Contrary to the idea that pride is an emotion that we should tamp down, the experience of pride can be very socially adaptive," says the researcher Lisa Williams. 
This may not come as a great surprise, we all know how brilliant pride makes us feel. So how come we've become so ashamed of it? 

'It was the sin of pride which first led Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit.' says the website 'allaboutgod.com'  'The sin of pride is the sin of sins,' it says, and 'The sin of pride is a preoccupation with self.'  

But it's not just religion that has such a downer on pride. In common parlance we have the saying 'pride comes before a fall', as the Noddy story very clearly demonstrated. For sure, there is a lot of doom and judgement around the word 'pride' in our culture. 

So how did pride get such a bad name? Well, pride is not so good if makes you obnoxious, conceited or arrogant; or if it means that you can never admit you're wrong; or that you gloat over others' misfortune; or that you have no empathy for people less successful; or it stops you from learning or seeing things from another point of view.  

But very often what looks like pride is less to do with too much confidence as too little. It may be used to combat or conceal feelings of inferiority or disadvantage. You don't get people going on Straight Pride marches, for example. Straight people don't tend to feel either good or bad about being straight. They are lucky enough not to have to think about it.   

People who are unable to admit they've made a mistake can seem very proud, but in reality they tend to have a fragile self worth that is dependent on being right. It takes confidence to admit you're wrong.  

So where does that leave us? Pride, as in a genuine delight in your own achievements or talents, or those in someone close to you, seems to be a good thing. It makes us smile more, feel more confident and perform better. And pride can be very modest. A delight in a rare success (or car purchase) is very different from a habitual assumption that you are better than anyone else. That is arrogance, it seems to me, not pride. 

If something that looks like pride manifests in you at times when your self worth feels under threat, then this is something to investigate. Kindly. 
  
Try this:

1. What are your sources of pride? Is it when you win a game, get praised at work, drive around in your new car? Or is it more likely to be when your son or daughter wins the geography prize? Or your football team wins the league? What are you proud of in your life?  
  
2. When you experience pride, what does it feel like? Do you let yourself have the feelings of pride, or do you tend to suppress them? And do you feel good about being proud, or guilty?  Or does it depend on the circumstance?


3. Take something that you feel proud about and really let yourself have that great feeling. Let it notch up a few degrees on the scale. 

Repeat as often as you like!  

If you have any thoughts about this or any other of my tips and reflections, do please write and tell me. I always love to hear from you. 

Be proud of yourself this week.... 

Anita

 

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