"Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real." -Thomas Merton
"It is man’s social nature which distinguishes him from the brute creation. If it is his privilege to be independent, it is equally his duty to be interdependent. Only an arrogant man will claim to be independent of everybody else and be self-contained." -Mohandas Gandhi
Starbucks began a clever marketing campaign last year to create brand awareness for the double shot espresso. One particular advertisement focuses on Glen, perhaps a recent graduate, currently working in middle management. As he prepares for work, shaving and dressing, "Eye of the Tiger" fades in. And then the members of Survivor appear, extending the melody. This ode is not for Rocky Balboa though–it’s for Glen and his desire to succeed in business, climb another rung of the proverbial "corporate ladder." Quite the thought, to have a band herald your existence, to convey the circumstances you are currently engaged with. In "A Knight’s Tale" (2001), directed by Brian Helgeland, competitors are announced by lineage, by three generations on each side of the family. For those bold enough, partner with a colleague or friend and have them announce you by lineage or accomplishment at the next board meeting or family dinner. Yes, those are bewildered faces.
"Pride" is a mysterious word. Society invites us to take deep pleasure in our accomplishments and make them known to others. But society is fickle and the interest wanes in the course of time as others emerge into the limelight and their successes are revealed. Numerous definitions and numerous questions come to mind when the word pride is muttered. For instance, consider pride in terms of nationality. Americans understand this nation’s history and cherish the liberties it is founded upon: liberty, opportunity and responsibility. Pride is also framed in terms of achievement; parents cheer a son for his first hit in baseball, teachers periodically recognize students for exemplary work, and companies acknowledge the solid efforts of employees through bonuses. We take pride in our personal success. Pride is also framed in terms of identity. In a culture where the lens of beauty is constantly turning, comfort in one’s skin is of immense importance. And although everyone secretly wishes for change in one or more bodily features, peace is discovered in a genuine love for one’s self.
Notice the dilemma. What exactly is self-love? And when does it become narcissism, arrogance, seeing others as means to an end? In the Scriptures, Jesus is tested with a question by an expert in the Law, the covenant between God and man. Asked what the greatest commandment is, He responds with these words, simplified for clarity: "Love God and love others as you love yourself." Perhaps self-love is coming to terms with your faults, but never ceasing to correct them. And perhaps self-love is knowing a God who pursues the heart, a belief in love not constrained by attitudes, circumstances, emotions. Confident in identity, love for others becomes the natural outflow. But another question surfaces: who is my neighbor? Many teachers of the Law frame the response through this lens—"Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." It is simple to think of neighbor in terms of distance or proximity, but this word implies community, the village, the nation. The Hebrew word for neighbor is rayah and means "friend" or "companion" or "another." Being or not being a rayah is beyond the relationship between two friends; it is evident in daily interactions with strangers too.
13th century Rabbi Nahmanides writes, "One should place no limitations upon the love for the neighbor, but instead a person should love to do an abundance of good for his fellow being as he does for himself." Understanding one’s neighbor is often guided by society. The West is directed by staunch individualism, the pioneer spirit to improve one’s life, to pursue a better standard of living. An individual’s identity is framed through the community in eastern countries; ancestry, honor, and the family name are deeply significant. Understanding a neighbor may also be found in music. Have you stopped to consider songs in church, to look at the recurring words? I find these to be prominent and recurring: "I" and "me" and "my." Seldom do I notice "we" or "us." Quite the disparity.
Pride may lead to the unconscious decision of rejecting God. Independence begins to take over the mind and disconnect occurs. Self-confidence, while healthy, leads elsewhere. A hazardous self-love appears when thoughts drift from God. In other words, a disparaging question quietly creeps into the mind: "What can God do for me?" And within this thought pattern lies the danger of entitlement, the belief good and upright actions merit compensation, reward, blessing. The truth, however, is sobering, albeit refreshing … I am entitled to no reward, no gift, no kindness, no forgiveness. Action is not synonymous with justification. Forgiveness, healing, love and hope come without requirements, without hesitation, without conditions.
In Hebrew, the word for pride is gawohn and means "exaltation" or "majesty," words indicative of a king. And like a king, man elevates his status through personal glory. Accordingly, it is no surprise people are fascinated with people and magazines that report on celebrities sell very well. But what is the fascination? Is it the substantial paycheck? Or is it the fashion currently in vogue? Hollywood banter over weight, marriage, and divorce is simply boring. Stars live under the microscope; every word is noted and every photograph is snapped. The paparazzi know society is intrigued. We are all flesh and blood though, susceptible to tears and pain, heartbreak and betrayal, anger and forgiveness. And understanding this simple thought removes pride, preparing the heart for healing.
As pride crumbles and vulnerability cleanses the spirit, rejuvenation occurs.
Unfortunately, however,this process will repeat again. Spiritual growth is a circular pattern, not linear. Consider the nation of ancient Israel: God invites them to exit Egypt and follow him to the land of promise; in time, through heartache and provision, they reach their destination. The people conquer the land and rejoice in the abundance they now possess. Confident, they begin to neglect God and his counsel, forging a new path. Neighboring armies begin to attack; desperate, they cry out to God and He intervenes, rescues, saves. And like the motion of a clock, this process repeatedly occurs in the Scriptures. Such is the heart of man. But with pride in check, humanity begins to identify with one another. The passion to strengthen and encourage intensifies. This passion, this ardor, does not stem from pride. Pride is self-centered; this other power is selfless. This power is the binding force of the universe and is known to us as love.