Fundamental to our study and, more importantly, application of primility is how we define its two root words.
My personal definitions of each are as follow:
- pride: a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
- humility: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.
The problem is that each word has such varying definitions depending on where you look.
Contradictory usage leads to confusion
Pride is defined elsewhere as your greatest enemy, as feeling that you are more important or better than other people, and, well, it’s the root of all sin, according to some.
Humility is defined elsewhere as a modest or low view of one’s own importance, with synonyms like “meekness” and “diffidence.”
So each word will be viewed differently by different people. That can make it difficult to find the common ground necessary for shared understanding.
Take, for example, this article. A friend sent it to me on Sunday, and it’s a wonderful read for anyone interested in how primility has played a role in Christian tradition. But consider these two passages:
Pride can be summarized as an attitude of self-sufficiency, self-importance, and self-exaltation in relation to God. Toward others, it is an attitude of contempt and indifference. As C.S. Lewis observed, ‘Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.’
There is, of course, a good type of pride. Paul, for example, was proud of the churches he had established. But this was not arrogant or self-exalting pride.
As we see in the final few words of the second passage, pride often needs a qualifier. “Self-exalting pride” is bad; it’s the “spiritual cancer” C.S. Lewis was talking about. But the pride that led Paul to establish churches for the glory of God? That’s the good type of pride.
I could find similar examples for humility.
There is the humble feeling you might get when you’re around successful experts in your field. If it causes you to recognize how much hard work it will take to reach their level, it’s “the good type” of humility. But if it leads you to demean your own importance and makes you shy away from striving to reach their level, now your humility is its own kind of internal cancer.
It is easy to articulate these reasonable examples that illustrate contradictory definitions for the same word.
Context matters (a lot)
Pride and humility are powerful, loaded words. More than representing a specific state of being, they describe a range of thought, emotion, and feeling. Pride and humility are each a spectrum along which our consideration for our self and our consideration for others can be measured.
But pride is not “good.” Nor is it “bad.” It is neither sin nor virtue. Same with humility.
It all depends on the context.
But here is what we do know: either in excess is bad.
“Self-exalting pride” must be reigned in with less exalting of the self and more exalting of others. Humility that has morphed into meekness must be pulled up onto its feet by pride, lest the meekness lead to diffidence and inaction.
And this is the benefit of considering them together.
Because then no context is necessary.
Primility is always good
Primility is always pushing us in a positive direction that benefits ourselves and benefits our world.
It’s a bit like word magic in that way.
It takes two immensely complicated ideas and distills them into one simple, straightforward, actionable mindset.
(Symbolized, of course, with a red wristband.)
How do you define pride and humility?
I’m curious …
How do you define the root words of Primility? With so many definitions out there, which one(s) make the most sense to you?
Could make for a fun discussion below.
Flickr Creative Commons image via Tom Magliery.