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Pride And Humility
by Serge Kahili King

"Show some pride!" "Stand Up for yourself!" "Walk tall!" "Don't be a doormat!" "Be proud of who you are!" "Stick out your chest and hold your head high!"

"Show some humility!" "Keep your head down!" "Don't stick out from the crowd!" "Pride goeth before a fall!" "Learn to be humble!" "Who do you think you are?"

When I was a young man trying to find my place in the world, my mother once said to me, "Don't think too much of yourself, or God will bring you down." Well, that was scary. It was also confusing, because the world was full of religions, philosophies, psychologies, and cultures with diametrically opposing viewpoints on the issues of pride and humility, often within those same religions, philosophies, psychologies, and cultures themselves.

For many years I wandered through a maze of conflicting ideas, trying to figure out how to be humble without losing my self respect, and how to be proud without losing my sense of humility. Mostly, like a lot of people I've met, I bounced back and forth between arrogance and self-debasement, with all the variations in between, before I finally discovered what it was really all about.

In ancient Greece one of the worst sins you could commit was that of hubris, an excessive form of pride that's also known as arrogance. The most serious form of it was when you thought you were the equal of, or better than, the gods. There are many stories in Greek mythology about mortals whose hubris caused the gods to slap them down. This translated socially into the very real danger of being slapped down hard by those who represented the gods, such as priests, kings, and government officials if you dared to think that you were their equal or, especially, better than them.

Eventually, this idea became an ingrained part of Western culture in general and was transferred not only to the gods or God of newer religions, but to the class systems that developed, such as nobles and commoners, or the rich and the poor. Then it was hubris to think yourself the equal to or better than your "betters," meaning anyone perceived by your society as having a higher social or financial standing than you.

As if that were not bad enough, the problem was worsened by the word, hubris, going out of fashion and being replaced by the word, pride, whose dictionary definitions are very contradictory. Finally, we are at a point today where it's good to be proud and it's bad to be proud, and it's good to be humble and it's bad to be humble. Is there a way out of this conundrum?

There is if we are willing to think a little differently. First, we have to distinguish between true pride and false pride, and then we have to distinguish between true humility and false humility.

True pride has to do with acknowledging and respecting who you are and what you can do, without any outside confirmation or approval. False pride has to do with claiming that you are more than you believe you are, and that you know more than you believe you know. This kind of pride almost always requires outside confirmation or approval to cover up an inner feeling of inadequacy. Mind you, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with outside confirmation or approval. It's only a measure of false pride when you cannot feel any self respect without it. Another aspect of false pride is arrogance. This is when you pretend that you are better than others in ways that cannot be measured by skill. It is one thing to be better at a particular skill than anyone else, and it is quite another thing to require others to acknowledge that or to pretend that somehow your level of skill makes you a higher type of human being. You'll notice that I keep saying "pretend." This is because no matter how good a person is at acting superior, to the degree that he or she needs outside validation for the superiority that person is pretending. Someone with true pride may or may not be a superior person, but that doesn't matter to them.

True humility has to do with acknowledging and respecting who you are and what you can do, without any outside confirmation or approval. False humility has to do with claiming you are less than you believe you are, and that you can do less than you believe you can. This kind of humility almost always requires outside confirmation or approval to cover up an inner feeling of arrogance. The person with false humility has a driving need to convince others of how humble he or she is. Sometimes this is because a person believes that any form of pride is bad, and sometimes an essentially arrogant person is using false humility as a way of disarming or manipulating other people. A truly humble person has no need for others to know how humble he or she feels, nor any fear of others knowing. A truly humble person feels neither superior nor inferior to anyone else.

What are we left with out of all this? Just a very simple idea: true pride and true humility are exactly the same thing.

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