The Barefoot Corporate Warrior – Pride Abounding

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Paul Bird explores the fine line between not enough and too much.

“Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.” – Emily Bronte

Pride gets a bad wrap in literature, religion and history.

In the Christian tradition it is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and, as Wikipedia tells us, has been labelled the father of all sins and the devil’s most prominent trait. That great sage Benjamin Franklin who wrote extensively on human imperfection, its consequences and remedies, also warned of the pitfalls associated with pride while Alexander Pope saw pride as “the never failing vice of fools”.

So, in the context of these sentiments it has been interesting to note the recent outpouring of pride when it comes to the performance of our Olympians.

Our athletes have come to symbolise some of those characteristics which we cling to as showcasing the “best of us” – commitment, dedication, tenacity, determination and admirable comportment in the face of pressure.

And yes, a pride in achieving performance levels which then drives them on to further heights.

I am proud of them. These are all attributes which make for successful human beings and societies.

They were humble and gracious in both victory and defeat and did “us” proud.

I am also proud of the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics for their fortitude, against tremendous odds, in mounting and delivering a much-need tonic to a weary world. Bravo and well done. You can be proud of yourselves. 

Is this then “good” pride?

It seems that, as in most things, a certain amount of pride is no bad thing. It is only when it teams up with self-conceit and vanity, and perhaps extends itself to its recently culturally vogueish friend, narcissism, that problems occur.

The question is whether the distasteful, destructive and unhelpful traits of pride are becoming the norm in our current culture? Or is it that the prideful minority, with social media amplification, simply have a more prominent platform than the silent and less boastful majority? 

The impression of a surging, unhealthy pride could also be the result of a greater reticence to call out boorish behaviour and statements thus giving the impression that this is all there is.

My experience is that Australians are mostly a pretty humble lot and that long-standing aversions to unhealthy pride have not yet become ‘old hat’.

There are examples aplenty of poor prideful behaviours and language in the self-boosterism which surrounds us in discussion, social media and public statements all the way from (yes, some) athletes to politicians.

Humility seems a rarer commodity in our public discourse yet when we think of history, and indeed the leaders who we may have known in our own lives, the most effective and inspiring leaders are those who go about their business with a humble and self-deprecating demeanour.

They are most admired and loved.

There has always been an argument around whether such leaders are actually effective in securing favourable outcomes or whether the ‘crash-or-crash-through’ personality leaders who exhibit very low levels of humility are in fact the real ‘doers’. The answer remains elusive.

Strong, uncompromising leaders of high self-belief spilling into pride have often broken through when those of frailer ego fell away.

There are many examples in history of both styles as failure or success.

It seems to me that overtly prideful people are more prone to a mean spirit. 

C.S. Lewis also wrote that pride was “spiritual cancer” and that “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud; the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” 

National pride, patriotism can bind people around shared values and beliefs providing positive energy for a cohesive future which rises above petty divisions. The peaceful nature of the competition between nations at the Olympics is in tune with this sentiment.

Equally though, we have seen how this base can morph, often fed by resentment and fear, into an ugly and superior form of nationalism. This form of pride is used to justify the poor treatment of those who are not a member of the ‘proud’ nation. Ultimately this nationalism can lead to the worst kinds of inhumanity.

A certain level of self-awareness both in the moment and upon reflection is required to recognise our own pride and the potential destructive consequences.

It seems that pride is a human emotion which is useful… until it isn’t. The wisdom is in learning when it is useful and recognising when we are succumbing to the unhealthy version.

My observation is that pride seems to bubble to the surface more easily than humility, which needs to be cultivated in order to flourish. This all leads back to self-reflection and awareness.

We need to understand our own human tendencies for mistake-making but also to see how and why our pride was unhelpful and uncompassionate, both to ourselves and to others i.e. learn how to behave better in the future.

And remember… “Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Book of Proverbs.

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