Pride is clever and crafty as it wears many faces and does impressions of other attitudes and even virtues. Pride is so invisible at times that it can be up and running without anyone detecting it for long stretches of time – infection without detection.
If pride were not so much a stealthy, complex, and perpetually reincarnating individual and social process, it might be easy to quickly diagnose and treat. But the reality is that pride has no interest in being diagnoses and treated, it has no interest in compromise, and it has no interest in sharing. It is a relentless force that seeks to fill every single little patch of real estate in your soul it can find. Any little crack where humility has not filled, pride will occupy, take up residence, and defend as its sovereign domain. Pride is nothing to be trifled with.
One of the great ruses of pride is to define itself in obvious terms. Arrogance is a form of pride that is often obvious and overt, but pride would like us all to believe that arrogance and pride are synonymous – that arrogance is the only form of pride. Pride would like us to look at overtly arrogant people and compare ourselves and find ourselves to be something other, better than they are. Pride invites us to separate ourselves from that overtly arrogant person and declare ourselves humble since we are not like that arrogant person. That is a major win for pride. Any occasion that results in some declaration of immunity to pride allows for the undetected processes of pride to continue unfettered.
Pride, though it has its obvious and overt expressions, spends most of its time behind the scenes and under the surface, carefully constructing houses of cards that look and feel real, but in the end result in seemingly irreversible devastation. Pride likes to hide and lurk
One of pride’s favorite ruses is false humility. With enough practice, there are people who can simultaneously be consumed with and controlled by pride and be regarded by friends, co-workers, and family members as the most humble person I know. When pride engages the power of the social system and event he culture to perpetuate itself, it is almost impossible to detect. It is up to the prideful person to do all the work of detection and remedy. And if detection and remedy is initiated by the prideful individual, the social system around them will actually work against the remedy. Why? Social systems do not like to change, especially when the change feels like an indictment. In short, the prideful individual who is seeking to change is essentially telling the social system that you have supported and helped perpetuate my prideful living. No one really wants to hear that, so they’ll usually persist and dismiss that the person was ever prideful in the first place.
Another ruse of pride is internal defiance with external compliance. Sometimes this process isn’t pride because it is a redemptive subversion of oppressive forces, but much of the time it is simply just pride. This process of pride can emerge in work, in family, in school, at church, with God or in just about any situation when there is a power difference or intimate relationship. In short, this manner of pride says you can compel me to change my behavior, but I will not soften my heart.
Another of the many ruses of pride is depressed defiance. There is a particularly clever strain of pride that leverages perceived helplessness to gain, power, control, and even dominion. This manner of pride can emerge when there is legitimate helplessness (this is distinguished from resilience and resourcefulness), but does its best work when conceptual helplessness transcends actual helplessness and it is the conceptual helplessness that is acted on. It preys on the goodness of people to do for the individual what the individual could do for themselves. In its most extreme form, it will lead the individual to perpetrate on oneself and then endure dangerous suffering in order to control others.
If pride is so clever, so stealthy, and so…intelligent, what can a person do?
The first act of humility is to recognize one’s own perpetual vulnerability to and propensity for pride. This is not easy; however, working from the assumption that you are always at least vulnerable to some form of pride is itself a very humble posture.
The second act of humility is to seek an ever increasing sensitivity to pride, to be willing to detect its presence. Depending on comparison to other people as a barometer of one’s own pride is too crude a measure. It is unnecessary, but it may be a fair place to start. However, it is best to go past comparison as quickly as possible as it has a whole set of built in pitfalls. Introspection is important and necessary, but it, too, is likely to be insufficient. Some other ingredients to getting better at detecting one’s own pride includes having a small group of people (1-3 others) who you invite to help you detect it, tell you when they detect it, and have zero judgment in the manner in which they relate to you concerning pride. Another is to have an external code for processing experiences. Some people use the wisdom of the Bible to help them along. Submitting oneself to legitimate sources of wisdom helps to make one sensitive to one’s own pride.
A third act of humility is to submit oneself to an authority of some kind. Many people relate to God in this way. Having someone to whom you consistently seek to show respect and honor allows for you to practice the kind of humility with another that would work well in lots of relationships, even people who are not an authority to you.
Pride is nasty. Pride is ubiquitous. The discipline of humility is the kind of the medicine that remedies and extinguishes the scourge of pride.