On Pride and Humility

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I have a lot of problems with the English language. But if I had the power to change just one thing, I’d create another word for ‘pride’.

Yes, I’ve heard of a thesaurus—in fact, I even use a thesaurus, big college kid that I am. But we don’t use a lot of the synonyms. We overly rely on the word ‘pride’ itself, and it’s messing with one of the most powerful of human experiences.

I don’t think there’s a single word in the entire language that has such a complicated connotation. There’s the positive connotation, the one that most people seem to recognize and the one I most prefer. This is the satisfaction you feel when you face applause. This is the so-wide-it-hurts smile you get when you watch your friends cross the stage at graduation. This is the swell in your heart when your team has accomplished something together that you knew you couldn’t do alone.

Then there’s the negative connotation: prideful people can be seen as egotistical, selfish, and arrogant. Ezra Taft Benson, a leader in my church, gave a talk in April 1981 on the subject (and Seminary students know this talk well). He stresses that arrogance has ended entire civilizations. He states that to be proud is to love man above God. He stresses that in order to be Christ-like, absolute humility must replace pride. But surely he means pride in the negative sense; the joy I feel when I overcome an obstacle isn’t evil.

Humility is a funny word too. To give credit to those who deserve it and recognize your role in the “bigger picture” is one thing; to have absolutely no self-respect and claiming humility is another. Humility is honesty, and being the bigger man. It has nothing to do with claiming credit. Humility is one of the most commonly faked mind frames in human history; true humility is almost too deep to truly describe. Of this art, Christ was the master, but we are all still students.

Pride—the first kind, anyway—is essential for progress. Heck, it’s essential for a happy life. I want my teachers, my friends and my family to be proud of me, because it means I’ve earned their respect. I want to be proud of myself, because with self-confidence comes success and satisfaction. I want to be proud of my country and all those that fight for it because that pride runs through my veins and powers my spirit. But I swear, every time I use the word “pride” I get put through hell and back because humility is what we strive for.

Humility is nice. Humility is just as essential as pride, even. But it’s something more personal and far more complicated than pride. Humility is not the antonym of that first kind of pride, but for the second. That’s why, if I could, I would rename the second kind. We need some kind of division.

Don’t be afraid to be proud of something or someone. Recognize that it was a team effort, and don’t ever place yourself above a celestial being, but let yourself celebrate a little bit. Well-earned pride in yourself or in a group of people is one of the most wonderful things that a human can feel, and I’m sure that God wouldn’t want us to forgo that.

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