I just finished draining some of the king of beers from my magical shapechanging stiffy sausage and it occurred to me, "Why, when all of us must occasionally produce this pale mustard cocktail, does anyone bother with pride?" Well, the wording was new, but the thought has been roiling about in my hairy jello mold for much of the day.
Some people think they need pride to feel good about themselves. After all, if you didn't take pride in your accomplishments, possessions, abilities, and associations, why would you feel good about yourself at all? Of course, such a conception not only makes your self-worth contingent on your perceived superiority over others, but leaves it vulnerable to the inevitable encounter with someone superior to you.
"Wait just one darned-tootin' minute!" I hear you say, "My pride isn't a comparison to others! It's just about me! Me me me me Me ME MEEEEEE!"
O rly? So, if you take pride in your grades, it isn't because they are above average? If you take pride in your car, it isn't because it's an expensive model? If you take pride in your athletic abilities, it's not because they're better than the norm? Let's be real, here. Nobody takes pride in the average or the universal. They take pride in the exceptional. The things few have or have done.
So, yeah, having pride is basically the same as considering yourself superior to other people. But, some people are okay with that, right? We live in a meritocracy. If we were all equal, we'd all have the same amount of money. Let's just ignore the racism inherent in that statement, given racial disparities of wealth in this country and this world. Or, you know, just the idea that when people are poor it's their fault.
But then, the ugliness of a belief doesn't actually speak to its truth or lack thereof. Let us take the typical successful person in this country, say, a mid-level employee at Apple.
Surely you, as an employee at Apple, applied yourself in school and got a good degree. You truly proved your capacity to thrive in an institutionalized setting, submitting to the authority of strangers. You are tasked with designing computers and phones. Note, I say design, not make, since the making is done in third-world sweatshops essentially staffed by slaves. You spend the better part of your waking life on the job, giving it your time and energy. You sell your slave-built product to the teeming masses, largely also working in jobs that involve selling, designing, or managing goods made by other exploited people.
Your reward, after you pay your taxes that help support wars of aggression against brown people, is a nice hefty paycheck. It helps pay for your palatial house and fancy car, in which you drive past the homeless every day. You have two kids who you send to private school. And, goddamn it, you deserve every penny, right? Right?
That, or a kick in the teeth. Of course, the fact that successful Americans don't really deserve to be proud is hardly proof that there is nothing you should be proud of. What if, you're, like, Mother Theresa or something?
Well, there is the strange dynamic of doing good things for other people so you feel like you're better than other people.
But none of these are the real reason that having pride is a bad idea. The real reason is because of what pride does.
Pride distorts your vision of the world. Say you are smart and got good grades in school. Say you're in the top 1% of intelligence. That isn't saying a lot in a room full of scientists or doctors. Yet, in the world you come from, you are the smartest person around. With pride, you can come to have an inflated view of your own opinion. You think you're hot shit. And when someone disagrees with you, you don't really listen, because you are the smartest motherfucker you know. Or so you think. And you have to think it, because that is what your sense of self-worth depends upon. We build identities based on pride, and being humbled is therefore shattering.
Or take the example of the big TV. What happens when you encounter someone who doesn't bother owning a TV? Someone who thinks it's a waste of time? If you are matter-of-fact about your TV, you just have different tastes, but if you have pride in your TV, that's an insult. It is saying that one of the things that you feel supports your value as a human being is worthless. You will be hurt, or even angry. Or, you will despise them and disregard them and their opinion as worthless.
Pride builds external things, things that are temporary and fallible, into aspects of your identity. When you take pride in a TV, losing that TV is devastating, because it is like losing part of yourself. When your intelligence fails to solve a problem, when you are wrong, it is as if you have failed. Your perception of your own worth is diminished when you face the limits of your abilities. Even worse, it can send you into heights of folly, making you deceive yourself, or in the case of physical tasks, even injure yourself, because you cannot accept those limitations.
And you will have to, eventually, fall into these follies, because the boost of pride is temporary. Because it is like a drug. Because as you use the ability or show off the thing you take pride in, you will encounter others more able or with better things than you. And pride cannot abide being second best. So you will push, and obsess, and hate the ones better than you, and lie to yourself and hurt yourself. For pride.
Yet, you do not need pride for a sense of self-worth. You can find worth in the commonalities we share, in the essence of you, rather than the trappings and appearances that you merely associate with you. Self-worth without pride is compassion, because it only really works when you extend your esteem to the essence within us all. Maybe try it sometime. Just look at yourself without all the titles and things and capacities and past deeds and opinions, at the very core awareness within you. And love it. And realize, as you do, that everyone else has that same alert little being wondering at their core.