We’ve already covered lust, greed and gluttony. This little ditty—the third in my four part deadly sins series—will bounce around some ideas about Pride, the sin. Hey, I have a low threshold for boredom and I’m an insomniac with time on her hands. Who else would think this stuff up in the middle of the night?
Decades ago, I remember thinking that a good time involved fitting five out of the seven sins into my sunset-to-dawn schedule. But it’s been so long since I’ve thought about The Sins that I had to look them up to make sure I’m remembering them right. Pride, Greed, Envy, Anger, Lust and the two most misunderstood sins of all: Gluttony and Sloth. It’s been even longer since I’ve thought about how most Western religions are divided up along the great divide between emphasizing the sin part of the equation over The Virtues in which those Seven Deadly Sins are committed against and emphasizing The Virtues, talking very little about the sins as if mentioning them might put thoughts into our heads. Man, that sentence was sixty words long! Some where in the world there’s an English teacher turning over in her pink satin-lined coffin.
The Virtues: Humility, Generosity, Love, Kindness, Self-Control, Faith & Temperance and Zeal. Yes, Virginia, we can’t have sin without them. The Virtues and The Sins are like Yin and Yang—not the panda bears in the zoo, but in Chinese philosophy and metaphysics. No, wait! I’m giving it the Western spin. Yin and Yang are primal oppose but complementary forces, not polar opposites. Yin/Yang. Tit-for-Tate. Let’s get back to virtues before I start singing a little Michael Jackson.
‘Virtue’ is a pretty word, don’t you think? It’s fun to say but it’s hard to walk the talk. But I try because I’m from the camp that believes in setting goals to live up to, rather than dispensing fears to run away from. Sing The Virtues, that’s my religion, and the sins will take care of themselves. I am getting big-time side-tracked again. Tonight I’m meditating about pride. Repeat that twenty times in a row; I’m old and your chanting will help me to remember that.
At first glance I have a hard time understanding how pride can be a sin. I mean I take pride in lots of things. The way I came through my husband’s stroke with all my marbles in place and the way my living room smells sweeter after I discovered where the dog parks his barf are just two examples. As humans, we take pride in our appearance and in the way our children turn out. We take pride in catching the biggest fish at a tournament or having a prestigious title at work. We take pride in the fact that we have more Tinker Toys than our neighbors or because we have bigger houses—and this is where pride enters the sin zone. (Insert eerie music here.)
To understand how pride is considered a sin I guess we need to talk about humility. Humility is, after all, the virtue that the sin of pride offends. Humility is seeing ourselves as we are, not as we are compared to someone else—write that on your shirt sleeve, there’ll be a quiz later. Pride is vanity. Pride is competitive. But wait a minute. Don’t we need pride? Don’t we need to think highly of ourselves? Where does self-esteem enter into the picture? Without it, wouldn’t we drive ourselves nuts questioning our own abilities to make to simple Mickey Mouse decisions? I’m talking about little prides here involving things like Resolve Carpet Cleaner and fishy taxidermy hanging in the den. Why can’t we be prideful without it being arrogant, self-centered, conceited, or boastfulness? Geez, all pride doesn’t take on the same intensity as the kind Aristotle might have discussed that leads to war between nations. (Me big strong nation. You gum on my shoe.) And without healthy pride and competition, we’d still be living in the Stone Age, would we not? Match – point. Which side of my head is winning this debate, anyway?
Take a deep breath. Let’s look at that Ralph W. Sockman said: “True humility is intelligent self respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be.” Here we go again. Isn’t he suggesting that we look within our own hearts to set the standards to gauge our efforts, that we measure ourselves against ourselves not against our neighbors? And on another side of the Rubik’s Cube, Paul Keating defined what humility is not when he said: “If one takes pride in one’s craft, you won’t let a good thing die. Risking it through not pushing hard enough is not humility.” I’m confusing myself again. Oh, lord, pass me the box of Ding Dongs.
“Back to basics,” I can hear some old philosophy professor saying in my head. “Break it down as simple as you can.” Okay. Being prideful of having lost ten pounds is not a sin, but being proud that you lost a pound more than your best friend is the sin of Pride. Being proud that you’ve gotten through all of your painful life challenges with just a few Band-Aids and bruises is not a sin, but thinking that—when those challenges came along—you should have somehow been exempt from having them is a sin of against The Virtue of Humility. By gosh, I’ve cracked the code! Pride keeps us from seeing the graces and authenticities in our lives. Pride keeps us from seeing that we are no better than the yo-yo who collects our dollars at the car wash or the chick at the beach with an ugly outie or a man with no legs.
Lest we forget, I need to add a footnote here. A few good men argue for and believe in the literal interpretation that pride is pitting ourselves against the will of God. Okay, by now you should be able to tell that I don’t buy into that power struggle. If you want to pass my pop quiz, put down something like thinking you should be exempt from life’s trials and tribulations just because you’ve listened to the entire Bible read by Charles Heston or you’ve made lots of yellow highlights in the print version. In my class, that’s an excellent example of a sin of Pride against Humility. And that next to the last sentence was another one of those turn-over-in-your-grave run-ons.
Bottom line: Life is just one big long lesson in humility, of being humbled by the graces that are bestowed upon us. Through adversity we learn to kick the gloating pride out of our lives and accept our state of grace. The humility that comes flowing in with the absence of the sinful kind of pride keeps our heads in proportion to our accomplishments.
What is the hardest part about avoid the sin of pride? For me, it’s knowing that in order to have true humility, I can’t brag about having found it. (Insert laughter here, please.)
This ends my midnight meditation on the Seven Deadly Sins series, part three. Amen and hallelujah! Now, get out your reading glasses and tell me what you wrote down on your shirt sleeve. If you got it right, it will be one of the few lines in this whole silly ditty that means jack squat in this poker game we call life. ©