[February 25, 2003]

Humble Pie: A Truly Sinful Dessert

By Wayne Dunn

While channel surfing the other day I saw a man telling his daughter to be proud of herself. The next channel had a preacher telling his congregation that pride is a "sin."

This little coincidence perfectly illustrates our culture's schizophrenia regarding pride.

On the one hand, we like feeling proud-- proud of our favorite team winning, for example, or of earning a promotion at work. Yet on the other hand, many believe that pride is somehow wrong and that humility is a virtue.

So people are sort of stuck between what's desirable and what we're taught is moral.

Our political leaders seem torn, too. For instance, in the second 2000 presidential debate, George Bush exemplified this confusion when he said, "[I] think the United States must be humble and must be proud and confident...."

Simultaneously humble and proud?

Well, Bush isn't dining alone. In post-Sept 11 ceremonies all across our land, the same meal was served up again and again: pride for the entree, a slice of humble pie for dessert. Patriots who sang "I'm Proud to be an American" only moments later could be found applauding each time some speaker praised humility.

This lurching from "I'm proud" one second to "little meek me" the next is born of the fact that contradictions can't be mentally digested. You can't have your pride and eat humble pie, too.

If humility is moral and pride sinful, as we're told, then to be consistent, whenever your kid sinks a basket, aces a test, or returns a lost wallet, instead of showing pride, you should finger-wag against it.

It means Lee Greenwood's song should go, "I'm humble to be an American, where at least I know I'm meek." It means the USMC should mewl: "The few, the humble, the Marines."

Oftentimes, people oppose pride simply because they confuse it with boasting and with refusing to acknowledge mistakes. But such behavior is actually incompatible with pride.

Think about it. A braggart feels not proud but inadequate, lowly-- humble-- feelings he hopes to erase by blustering. Similarly, someone who won't budge despite being proven wrong feels not proud but scorned, discredited-- humiliated--feelings he hopes to conceal with obstinacy.

Both those vices are versions of humility, not pride. Pride can stem only from genuine accomplishment, not from baseless words or deliberate error. As Loving Life author Craig Biddle put it: "A proud person is positively eager to stand corrected if presented with rational evidence that is incompatible with his position, because it means the expulsion of a contradiction, because it means the acquisition of new knowledge; it means that he is better fit to live, to pursue values, to achieve happiness."

The idea that humility is virtuous is an article of faith that comes from the notion of "original sin," another article of faith. It means that humans are "innately depraved." It means that a person should feel guilty simply for being a person.

In other words, in the name of faith twice over, you are told to accept that humility is good for you, despite any evidence you believe points to the contrary. Seems religion would rather you lie to yourself than judge for yourself.

Pride, by contrast, isn't accessible to liars. Pride is available only to those who acknowledge the facts (that's honesty), exercise rational judgment regardless of others' opinions (that's independence), and live accordingly (that's integrity).

Pride, a sin? Sounds more like it's a virtue we should encourage.


Return to Home Page

© COPYRIGHT 2003 by Wayne Dunn