Last Saturday Isaac and I had a discussion about pride. I asked some questions I'd been thinking about.
We tell people to take pride in their work, but to be prideful is a bad thing. What's the difference? It isn't wrong for an Olympic athlete to know they're good at their sport. What is the dividing line between recognizing the truth about yourself and being prideful? It is good for an intelligent person to teach others and sometimes to firmly rebuke those that are wrong, but then being caught up in your own intelligence and making an idol out of it is bad. Where is the difference?
It was a serious discussion because both Isaac and I identify that pride is something that we both struggle with and really always have. It's also a cultural struggle. Indonesia is very self-effacing. If you are complimented it is very culturally inappropriate to accept the compliment. You must always be modest and counter with, "oh no no... I'm just average, it's just normal." Here in the US that response smacks of either false modesty or insecurity, and we teach kids to recognize their accomplishments. We teach young adults to identify their skills and strengths and be able to sell themselves well in order to get good jobs and impress bosses.
Where IS the line between being appropriately culturally confident and being prideful?
One thing that struck me last week as I thought about people that I think of as prideful and people that I think of as humble is that they can be equally gifted and aware of their gifting. The prideful person, though, needs their gift/skill/strength/achievement to be recognized, while the humble person doesn't. It's most easily seen when recognition isn't given, or when something that you feel you have achieved is called into question.
I can see it in the discussions online about health care or just about any intense discussion. Someone can be extremely intelligent and knowledgeable, the type of person that should be taken as an expert on the topic. Despite this, their perspective is attacked and treated as stupid simply because people disagree with them politically. How does that individual respond? Are they able to simply be okay with others disagreeing or questioning them, or are they infuriated that their intelligence or knowledge is in question and they defend themselves dramatically or turn and begin to attack the other side? A humble person doesn't demand that their rightness or intelligence or expertise be recognized - they're able to simply state their case and be done with it.
It's the same in leadership. It's easy for a leader to appear humble when they're being praised, but the rubber meets the road when their skill and ability to lead is called into question. Does that questioning of their ability cause them to become defensive and angry? That's a human response, but it also shows that there's pride invested in this particular gifting or position.
The people that I know that are most characterized by humility are able to let go of praise or recognition or whatever else it is that has been given to them because they do not see their identity tied in that particular thing. Since they have an accurate view of themselves, they are okay with or without the recognition and admiration of those around them. Funny...now that I think of it... I think humility is often closely tied to a quiet confidence, and accurate view of self. Pride and insecurity go hand in hand, I think. We need our ego stroked because we feel insecure about the issue, and thus when the ego is not stroked we become defensive or angry. When we are secure in our own giftings and limitations, we don't need to be recognized and are able to take our eyes off of ourselves.
There was a sermon about pride at our church right after Isaac and I had this discussion and I had the hardest time paying attention. I did hear him use the passage in Philippians 2 about Christ's humility and it struck me as being an perfect example of what I just said.
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. "
This is, of course, far beyond the question of pride. Still, it says something related to it. We are to follow the example of Christ, and Christ's example was to give up what was RIGHTLY his. He grasp hold of his identity - he gave it up in order to serve those he loved.
Remarkable. How can I transfer this lesson to my own life? Where do the things I justifiably take pride in become things that I NEED, that I insist on being recognized, that I fearfully hold closely lest they be taken away and my true weakness be revealed?