From Poison to Nectar: Distinguishing between Healthy and Harmful Pride March 28, 2023 11:52
If you prefer to listen to this month's blog article, please click HERE for the audio link.
I love listening to Dr. Bertice Berry's daily stories. She started posting them every day on Facebook during the pandemic. Dr. Berry is a sociologist, a story teller, a motivational speaker, a seamstress, and a writer. Her latest book, BlackWorld, is amazing!
Most of her stories are uplifting--and even when they deal with struggles or suffering--there is usually a message of hope and encouragement embedded in the story.
The other day, she shared a story on her page called "It's OK to be Proud," and she encouraged her listeners to "look at something you've done, something you created with our own hands and heart--and marvel at it--be proud of what you made and how you made it."
Taking the time to think about what I've worked hard to create makes me feel a little uneasy. That word--"pride"--is a loaded word--and the concept behind it can be a slippery slope.
On one hand, it's healthy to have a sense of self-confidence, a clear understanding of your capabilities and skills.
However, pride in its unhealthy form is an exaggerated sense of self. It is boastful and demeaning. It takes up a lot of space and demands of others. "LOOK AT MEEEEEEE!!"
I think my discomfort with this word started when I was a kid. As long as I can remember, I have talked to myself (when I'm by myself). Admittedly, I still do this--usually when I'm in the car. It's a great way for me to process creative ideas or to work through problems and struggles.
When I was young, talking to myself was part of imaginative play, and a way to keep myself company when I was alone. One time, when I was about seven years old, I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror. The door was open, and I thought I was alone, but my stepdad must have been in the hall.
I don't remember what I was saying or talking about. I do know that I was playing--making silly faces in the mirror and giggling--just being a kid and having fun.
The next morning, I went into the bathroom, and when I turned on the light, I noticed that a towel was covering the mirror. It took a second for me to register this--it was jarring to me, and it took my breath away. I remember feeling a sudden rush of shame wash over me.
I can still see that towel in my mind even now--it was an old beach towel--faded yellow, with a single sailboat floating in a pale blue ocean.
My stepdad never talked to me about it. Instead, he let the towel speak for him. It communicated a strong message: don't look at yourself--don't waste time with silly play--don't talk to yourself--you're a weirdo--you're not important--you don't matter.
He may not have intended any of these messages, but this is what his action communicated to me.
My stepdad had assumed that I was being arrogant and prideful. I can't be certain of this, but throughout my childhood, he would occasionally accuse me of being full of myself or egotistical. Often, these accusations would blindside and confuse me.
Looking back now, I can see that he was likely projecting his own lack of self esteem and pride onto me, something a seven-year-old kid would not understand...yet.
This towel gesture didn't help me. Actually, it hindered me. It had a negative impact on my own self-esteem and confidence.
I still talk to myself :) (and I am more careful about making sure I'm by myself when I do), but I don't look at myself in the mirror very often--maybe just quick glances--but that's it.
"What is the wild horse that throws one from the mountain one is ascending? Pride, which thinks oneself superior and dwells on one's good qualities." (Gems of Wisdom from the Seventh Dalai Lama)
In Buddhism (and society in general), pride is considered a poison. It is an exaggerated view of the self that clings and grasps to one's perceived abilities and achievements.
Low self esteem, surprisingly, is also an expression of pride. It, too, is an exaggeration of the self, and it comes in the form of self-deprecation--making a big deal of ourselves in a negative way.
According to Venerable Thubten Chodron, abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington, the antidote to pride is to remember our interconnectedness to others. We never achieve what we do, or understand what we know, without having help from others.
Ven. Chodron agrees with Dr. Berry--that having confidence and the ability to rejoice and delight in our good qualities are healthy and important.
In addition, being able to discriminate between healthy pride, which is rooted in confidence and honesty, from toxic pride, which is rooted in arrogance, smugness, and demeaning others, is also very important.
Ven. Chodron adds that pride "isn't a poison unless it devalues another person."
In The Power of Compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains that excessive pride is connected to attachment to the self. "Attachment is narrow-minded and biased. Genuine compassion is healthier; it is unbiased and based on reason."
According to HHDL, the key to developing and practicing genuine compassion is cultivating equanimity. The wisdom of equality, equanimity, and focusing on others can transform the poison of pride into a healing nectar of compassion.
Sometimes I think about that little seven-year-old girl, that long ago version of me. If I could go back in time and talk to her (my "present self" talking to my "former self," which takes the notion of talking to myself to a whole new level), I would offer her reassurance and compassion. I would tell her that it's OK to be playful and imaginative--that it's OK to look in the mirror and smile. I would take the towel off the mirror and tell her that I love her, that she is beautiful and funny and creative, and encourage her not to let anyone dull her shine. We would look into the mirror together--and make silly faces.
It's OK to be proud. It's OK to celebrate and rejoice about things that matter to you, about things that you have worked hard to create and share with others.
I left a comment on Dr. Berry's story from the other day. I told her that I make beautiful, hand-knotted malas, and that my intention is to inspire and support meaningful practice for others. I hope that my creations offer a little peace, compassion, and encouragement for others.
She responded with a heart and an "Oooooooooo Yaaaaaaaasssssss!"
What are you proud of? What have you created with your heart, hands, and mind in this precious human life?
Take a moment to marvel at it--to celebrate and rejoice....because, sometimes, it's OK to be proud.
Thanks for taking the time to read or listen today. The MMM collection is full! Please take a look at the beautiful malas and quarter malas available in the online shop. May they be of benefit to you and your practice. Rejoice and celebrate!
Photo Credit: Edrick Krozendijk, courtesy of Unsplash