Pride As a Tool

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said,

“A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.”

I mirror Kierkegaard’s sentiment. One must look inward when considering their own psychological strengths and weaknesses, with the purpose of formulating the best mental toolkit possible. To understand oneself, after-all, is to be able to look at your biases, emotional hijackings and faulty perspectives as they arise. This is, of course, just the tip of the spear. Noticing ones internal world is one thing, doing something about it is another. In theory the space that this mental awareness provides should enable us to make better decisions, act less emotionally and have an all together more functional, well adjusted life. This sounds great, right?

So then, what about the emotion that is pride? Could we harness something like pride in a more productive, functional way?

Lets have a look at some of the research and see as to whether pride is good or bad for us. Pride has seemingly been split it into two emotions: hubristic pride and authentic pride. Some researchers argue that hubristic pride is what leads to states of arrogance and smugness, while authentic pride is what promotes confidence and fulfilment. Or, what I would call the more productive version of pride.

However, others say that this splitting of pride may be too simplistic. In fact, some argue that hubristic pride doesn’t really qualify as an emotion at all. It’s not that arrogant people are feeling a different emotion than non-arrogant people. The emotion of pride is present in both cases. Hubris is mainly about how someone communicates their pride to others. This is when pride might become problematic and particularly toxic. Nonetheless – pride seems to have a significant say in ones self esteem, their relationships and whether they believe life is worth living. So, in short, it’s not a trivial emotion.

Let’s have a look at a relatively small study of 1,000 people. During which, a team lead by University of Miami psychologist Charles Carver found that those who habitually experience authentic pride have greater self-control, perseverance, and goal attainment. Fantastic! However, those who frequently experience hubristic pride tend to be more impulsive and motivated solely by monetary or related external rewards. The not so good stuff. What this suggests to me, is that if we can potentially harness pride in a more collective, mutually agreed upon framework it could benefit our society at large. It has never seemed more necessary than in today’s divisive, polarising times – the need for a unified value system that we can all be proud to move toward and live within. But what does this look like, you may ask?

Well, that is a question for another day. But for now it looks as if pride can be a useful tool for harnessing positive emotion, actions and change. This would, of course, need to start at an individual level and then hopefully ripple into the cultural and societal space. Could you be more proud of yourself? More filled with pride as you go through each day? Wouldn’t that be wonderful!

Imagine a world where we are all proud of doing things that benefit ourselves, our families and our communities. Where we are moving toward a shared goal that is worth striving toward, and we are proud to be doing so. Instead of the junk, hedonistic version of “prideful” experiences we are saturated with online and in the media. We’ve all seen the photos of the girl who’s looking really proud of herself for standing there in her fancy bikini – what an achievement! Or the gentleman posing in front of an expensive car. I’m sure that pride must have lasted about eight minutes, until they were stuck in traffic.

Regardless, these are good examples as to the power that pride can have. We humans can be lead to put inordinate amounts of effort into “achieving” things in order to gain social clout. We could, however, be harnessing that energy much, much better than we are now. Pride, if utilised properly, can be used for the greater good. To enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

My hope is that we can be less filled with prideful ignorance. The pride we find in the man so convinced of the most heinous of beliefs that he will do the most vile of things. That we can turn this emotion into one for the greater good, for the benefit of mankind. Perhaps this hope is a fools dream, I don’t know. What I do know is that we must strive toward the stars, and if the worst that happens is that we fail in reaching these lofty goals, then so be it. We will have died trying.

I’ll leave you with a quote to think about by Julian Barnes.

“Pride makes us long for a solution to things – a solution, a purpose, a final cause; but the better telescopes become, the more stars appear.”

Until next time.

M L Wood ❤


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