The Problem With Pride and Humility

image of traffic signal with stop and walk signal up simultaneously

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:

#1:

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.’

#2:

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.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hey Jerod,

    Another great post! To me, humility is not just recognizing that you know more or less than someone else, it’s recognizing that in all matters, you just know different.

    Being humble is a way to welcome new ways of thinking in by leveling the playing field, if that makes sense. Remembering we are all equal and doing the best we can and we can all learn a little something from one another. Being humble is just a meeting each person where they are without puffing ourselves up or making ourselves small.

    I learned humility from my dad so it is especially dear to me :)

    Keep rocking the good stuff!

    Allison

  2. Jim Pier says

    Thought provoking post, Jerod. I like that you’re not afraid to bring some scripture into the discussion.

    Thinking about what you’re saying, it occurs to me that the pride I feel in my three daughters is a great example of when pride is a good thing. I don’t for a minute imagine that they are the beautiful, wonderful young ladies they are because of me Their mother gets a lot more credit than I. (That’s not false humility — if you’re a father, you know exactly what I mean.) The girls themselves deserve even more of the credit. And God deserves all credit.

    But I’m still deeply proud of them, of who they’ve become, and of the little bit that I’ve had to do with it. I love to tell people about them, and I love hearing it when others have good things to say about them.

    Damn right I’m proud.

    Jim Pier

    • says

      Thank you so much for the comment James. I think that’s an excellent example of primility. And your wife and daughters are lucky to have a husband and father so eager to be both proud of and humble toward them.

  3. says

    I love that the word humble carries root words that mean “being on the ground” and “earth.” Golda Meir had a great saying, “Don’t be so humble; you are not that great.” Which is a very humbling quote!

    As a dad, I love Jim’s example of pride. Totally get it.

    As I journey along with you on this concept of primility, I’d say humility keeps me rooted in “what is,” while pride gives me wings to pursue “what can be.”

    Does that make any sense?

  4. Hannah MacMillan says

    Great post Jerod,

    It makes the concept so much easier to explain to others. Growing up with the notion that ‘pride was a sin’ did have me questioning this logic when I was older, and thought about the pride I felt when I looked at the accomplishments of those in my family… But by thinking of this type of pride, as pride that isn’t ‘self-exalting’, it makes it easier to distinguish the two.

    And I really like Golda Meir’s quote Keith – it is humbling!

  5. Robert says

    Great post Jerod. Being involved in the sports world my whole life, pride is something I deal with on a daily basis. I define Pride as a belief in one’s self, a believe that I can be successful, and a inner drive to always to do my best, no matter what the situation. Humility is the willingness to put the concerns of others before my own. Combined, Pride pushes me to do his best, humility makes sure I does not put others down as I achieve success. I shold pull others along with me.
    Current sports figures that I think display Primility: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera Patrick Willis,

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