Over the centuries, oceans of ink have been spilled on the topic of pride and it has puzzled and perplexed philosophers, theologians and psychologists for centuries. It has been of particular interest to me since I moved to the United States: the English and American attitudes toward pride are very different animals. In England if someone congratulates you on a job well done, the expected response is to say, “Oh, it was nothing.” In the United States the person being congratulated will usually explain how much work went into the task and how pleased he or she is to be recognized. England expects modesty; America has since its founding encouraged and applauded self-reliance and personal excellence. On the other hand too much pride can breed narcissism and vanity, and nobody likes that.
Pride is clearly a complex emotion, unlike primary emotions like anger or fear.
Two psychologists – Jessica Tracy from the University of British Columbia and Richard Robins from the University of California at Davis, have been exploring the origins and purpose of pride.
They reviewed several recent studies on the nature and function of pride in the June issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Pride appears to be universal: in research using photographs of models with different facial expressions and body language, children as young as four, and people in many different cultures, including members of an isolated, preliterate tribe in Burkina Faso, West Africa, were all able to identify pride. What we do not know is how people at different ages and in different cultures respond to pride. It is clearly less acceptable in England than it is in the United States.
If it is universal, then what is its purpose? Tracy and Robins have tried a number of strategies to try and answer that question. They first asked people to come up with words that they associated with pride. People either link pride to such achievement-oriented ideas as accomplishment and confidence, which they term “authentic pride” or alternatively people connect pride to self-aggrandizement, arrogance and conceit, which they call “hubristic pride.”
People who tend to feel authentic pride were more likely to score high on extraversion, agreeableness, genuine self-esteem and conscientiousness. On the other hand, people who tend to feel hubristic pride were more likely to be narcissistic and, perhaps surprisingly, prone to shame. They also found that people who felt positive, achievement-oriented feelings of pride viewed hard work as the key to success in life, whereas hubristic people tended to view success as predetermined, due in part to their superior abilities.
Tracy and Robins argue that the primitive precursors of pride probably motivated our ancestors to act in altruistically for the good of the tribe. The physical display of pride would have both reinforced such behavior and signaled to the group that this person was worthy of respect. So individual authentic pride contributed in important ways to the survival of the community.
They speculate that hubris might have been a social "short cut:" a way of tricking others into paying respect when it was not warranted. Those who could not earn respect the old-fashioned way found tricks and techniques on how to look and act accomplished in order to gain status. Social cheaters developed a persona to compensate for their lack of abilities to achieve material success.
Chances are that any respect that they got would have been fleeting.
There is one other important point: in the United States with its healthy attitude toward pride, it does not have to be negative: pride can be a powerful motivator. Pride in performance, pride in working with gifted professionals and the pride of a heartfelt genuine acknowledgment can be worth more than rubies.
I do not mean the kind of Monday morning messages from the head of sales who tells everyone that they are “awesome.” That just pushes the cynicism button. But if the same sales manager send out occasional personal notes of congratulation that get copied in to everyone, the effects can be amazing.
Have you considered whether pride might be the missing motivator for you and your co-workers?
“Pride is as loud a beggar as want and a great deal more saucy.”
--Benjamin Franklin (American Author, Inventor and Diplomat, 1706-1790)
“Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.”
--Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russian Writer and, in 1970, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1918-)
“I hope there is no pride in me. I feel I recognize fully my weakness. But my faith in God and His strength and love is unshakable. I am like clay in the Potter's hands. I shall continue to confess blunders each time the people commit them. The only tyrant I accept in this world is the 'still small voice' within me. And even though I have to face the prospect of a minority of one, I humbly believe I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority. I believe in the supreme power of God. I believe in Truth and, therefore, I have no doubt in the future of this country or the future of humanity.”
--Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Nationalist and World Teacher, 1869-1948)
“The proud man hath no God; the envious man hath no neighbor; the angry man hath not himself.”
--Bishop Joseph Hall (English Theologian, Philosopher and Poet, 1574-1656)
“What good is social class and status? Truthfulness is measured within. Pride in one's status is like poison - holding it in your hand and eating it, you shall die.”
--Sri Guru Granth Sahib (a.k.a. Adi Granth, Sacred Text of Sikhism, completed in 1604)
“Pride is ignorance. A little possession of wealth, beauty, strength or intelligence intoxicates a man.”
-- Sri Swami Sivananda (Indian Physician and Spiritual Teacher, 1887-1963)