Pride sometimes gets a bad rap. Often its bad rap is deserved. But sometimes pride is important.
For those of us raised in the Christian or Jewish traditions, or even marginally aware of some of the Old Testament’s aphorisms, pride’s place as a “deadly sin” is solidified in the book of Proverbs:
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
That usage, as I interpret it, is related to hubris, i.e., excessive pride, the kind of pride that exudes from puffed-up ego rather than solid character. In contrast is a lesser degree of pride, the type that is useful and necessary to everyday life and especially important to success in everyday life: the pride of doing something well.
This is not the pride of being — being good, being smart, being beautiful, being talented — but the pride of accomplishing, the pride of making, creating, discovering. The pride of doing is the pride that derives from building up the world. The former pride, the pride of being, only builds up ourselves.
The pride of doing, and doing well, is vital. If we had no pride in our work, for instance, we wouldn’t show it to others for their evaluation, their approval, or especially their purchase. When we have worked diligently and produced something of which we are proud, our degree of pride is likely to be proportional to our work’s value — if we have judged it properly. Not that we don’t see the flaws in it, but that we are rightly proud of having produced something of quality. That is, we are more likely to receive recognition or compensation in the open market for work we are proud of than for work we disdain. It only makes sense that if we are not proud of what we have produced, chances are others may not find much value in it.
Working hard and producing something of which we can be proud, then, is an important component to being successful. It doesn’t guarantee success — nothing does — but we increase our chances of success if we judge our own work fairly and honestly and our level of pride reflects its value.
In truth, being able to distinguish between things that are shoddy — things of which we should not be proud — and things which are excellent — things of which we should be proud — is an important skill. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses that skill because the only way to develop it is to have enough pride in our work to show it to someone who will give us honest feedback about its strengths and weaknesses, and then to be willing to listen to the feedback and make adjustments.
In my professional life I regularly see the work of writers who seem unable to distinguish good work from bad as it pertains to their own results. Whether they make the distinction when it comes to others’ work, I have no idea; but like those who suffer from the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” these writers display inordinate amounts of self-confidence and pride, having produced relatively mediocre work. In contrast, many of my writer friends — even some of the most successful — are actually quite humble about their own work (even work of which they are justly proud).
So, pride of doing is important in that we want to produce things that make us proud; however, that pride should be informed, accurate, and truthful. Otherwise, our pride will go before our destruction, at least so far as our work is concerned.by
I love this post, Gray. It hits a target I’ve been shooting at for some time now, too. As a teacher at one point in my life, I came up against this phenomena all the time, especially when I was teaching freshman composition as a TA. There were many students who had inflated beliefs about their abilities by having been told of their “superior” writing as students in public schools.
It made teaching them difficult. Often, my suggestions at improvement were taken as differences in taste only, since they clearly were good writers. subsequently, and unfortunately, students would not make necessary changes and suffer poor grades as a result.
My son is a budding writer, and I am an honest critic of his work, balancing between positive and negative comments, with reasons behind both. At times is stung, but as I told him, “If you think I’m a tough critic, wait until your work is in front of an editor whose concern is capital gain. Then, you’ll find out that the fact I even took the time to read it as a compliment.”
Thanks, Roy! We always tried to be honest critics of our young-uns’ work, too, but it’s not always easy — and they have to be receptive for it to make a difference.
All the best,