Mindfulness of Self-Conscious Emotions: Pride

Photo by Edward Quick

Pride is a self-conscious emotion that involves a profound feeling tone of pleasure attached to perceived personal qualities, actions, possessions, or accomplishments. It can be hard for us in the US to swallow the notion of pride as a potential obstacle because our culture celebrates it as a virtue. I find it helpful to distinguish pride from appreciation or acknowledgement, which involves a full understanding of a situation, including that which is wanted, neutral and unwanted.  Also known as arrogance or conceit, pride is different because it disregards the neutral and unwanted in favor of what is desired – it often clouds clear seeing.

Pride can be a useful emotion because the satisfaction that comes from it can help reinforce prosocial behaviors. Taking pride in a job well done can motivate us to work hard and persevere. Being proud of our country can inspire us to take good care of it. Yet, pride can also be a form of ignorance or delusion in that it involves a misguided belief in a separate, independent, eternal, unchanging and unique “self“. Even when we are proud of something or someone outside of us, it almost always reflects back somehow on the self – it is in some way “ours”. In light of this, pride might be considered a type of greed because its a manifestation of ego clinging – we tend to strive after, defend, and try to hold onto ideas and experiences that reify our cherished sense of identity and we have a habit of ignoring, avoiding, or fighting against experiences that challenge it.

Pride also requires the use of comparison – seeking out differences and judging them. When we feel pride we elevate the self or what we believe belongs to us above others and we think this means something fundamental about us. This motivates us to focus on and inflate certain factors that support a sense of pride, while ignoring or diminishing those that conflict with it.

Feelings of pride can make us forget our interconnectedness and take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride. The shadow side of “unique” and “special” is isolation and separation. A high pedestal (or a deep pit for that matter) is a lonely place. When we see others as very different from us, especially when we see them as “less than” in some way, it becomes easier to disregard or mistreat them.

When impartiality is mastered,
Self and other, friend and foe are equal.
Pride will have no place
and realization, deep and peaceful, will arise. 

– Jigme Lingpa

Concepts such as “good” and “bad”, “winning” and “losing”, “first” and “last” are not essential qualities of things – they are attributed to phenomena from the outside and they are highly subjective. However, we tend to respond to them as if they are “truth“. Its important to remember that everything changes, ends, or transforms and so too will that of which we feel proud.

Just as an antidote to greed is generosity, an antidote to this particular form of greed (the ego-clinging of pride) is a particular form of generosity – gratitude. Practicing gratitude means giving thanks and expressing appreciation for things that are given to us. We recognize that nothing we possess or express is ours alone. Everything we have, think, and do is the legacy of a long and complicated web of causes and conditions. Remembering this helps us see the bigger picture, take the long view, and manage change with greater balance and wisdom.

…when people in great numbers choose to practice, integrate, and embody gratitude, the cumulative force that is generated can help create the kind of world we all hope for and desire, for ourselves and for future generations. – Angeles Arrien

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