When Gratitude Replaces Pride

For me, the strand of the American inheritance for which I am most grateful is our tradition of criticism and dissent. Through the institutions of free speech, free press, and an independent judiciary -- flawed, sold-out, and co-opted as they sometimes are -- this country has fostered development of a deep and rich discourse of self-critique. I am profoundly grateful for that development. "Grateful," I say. I might, instead, have said the tradition of dissent makes me proud of being American. "Grateful," however feels more to the point, more germane, and more accurate than "proud." True patriots love their country enough to tell it the truth, and I am grateful that our country has had many such true patriots.

Four posts ago, Lake Chalice quoted Frederick Buechner saying:
“Self-love or pride is a sin when, instead of leading you to share with others the self you love, it leads you to keep your self in perpetual safe-deposit. You not only don't accrue any interest that way but become less and less interesting every day.”
Our great need, then, is not to tell ourselves how great it is to be who we are and to have what we have. That sort of thinking just lulls us to hold onto it in “perpetual safe-deposit.” The great need is to figure out what to do with ourselves and the resources (including resources of privilege) at our disposal. How do we to share of ourselves and our power most effectively? That’s the need for any one of you, having whatever privilege you might have. How do you share it? How do you use the power of your inheritance to connect with others in compassion?

That’s the need, too, for our nation: to be neither proud nor ashamed of who we are and what we have, and to use the powers we have to connect with other nations with respect, with compassion, with an interest in their own good, not just what good they are to us.

Pride is disconnecting. It succumbs to the illusion that there is a separate self of which to be proud. Our challenge is to live, not in that illusion, but out of truth -- namely, the truth that we are all interconnected and one.

Yes, it’s true that claiming pride is sometimes a necessary antidote to a history of shame and shaming. I don't expect that in my lifetime the day will come when that strategy is no longer necessary. Not in my lifetime. But I see the little ones in our Religious Education classes -- kindergartners and elementary-schoolers -- and I imagine saying to them:
"Not in my lifetime, but maybe, just maybe, in yours, little one, the day will come when no one’s pride functions to deprive and shame others. On that day when no group is systematically shamed, countering the shame with pride will be unnecessary. The day will come when gratitude takes the place of pride. The day will come when being grateful for being, and for the conditions that made us what we are, always feels to the point, and comes from a place near to the heart. The day will come when being proud of ourselves will seem, at worst, hubris and, at best, an oddly quaint way of expressing what is really gratitude. The day will come. Not in my lifetime, little one. But maybe in yours."
May it be so.

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This is part 30 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 5 of 5 on Pride)
Previous: Part 29: "Proud To Be an American?"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


Proud To Be an American?

I know that I stand in, and speak from, a place of enormous privilege. I have:
  • white privilege,
  • male privilege,
  • straight privilege,
  • able-bodied privilege,
  • citizenship-in-the-country-whose-military-has-the-greatest-destructive-capacity-in-the-world privilege,
  • more-than-three-generations-removed-from-the-immigrant-experience privilege,
  • Protestant (by cultural heritage if not by current faith) privilege,
  • middle-class privilege,
  • economic privilege, and
  • educational privilege, both in terms of the privilege of having had easy access to all levels of education and the privileges of being educated.
It’s a level of privilege that is remarkable, that is undeserved, and is unfair. I would gladly surrender it for a more just world, if I could, but that doesn't seem to be an option. For the short-term, at least, I'm stuck with this load of privilege. So my question is: how do I put this tremendous privilege to best use? Living from a sense of noblesse oblige probably isn’t it. So what, then? How do I use my privilege to advance the dismantling of my privileges?

From my position of privilege, it’s easy for me to say I don’t have any more need for pride. Indeed, it is one of my privileges that my life situation allows me the luxury of preferring humility and gratitude. I don’t mean that I’m successful at achieving these virtues. I just mean that humility and gratitude for others looks a lot more appealing to me than does pride and credit-taking. The fact that I don’t have to fight daily for recognition and respect has a lot to do with that. I know that if I’m not heard for what I wanted to say, almost always it is because I wasn’t very skillful in saying it, not because of pre-existing doubts about my worthiness to be listened to. There are others who don’t have that privilege, who exhort themselves and their peers to pride as a necessary bulwark against social forces and conditions that denigrate who they are.

Some of the exhortations to pride are a matter of people doing what they need to do to claim their due. Other such exhortations, however, are apologetics for arrogance. On the one hand, pride in being LGBT, African American, or Latino/Latina is important and valuable. On the other hand, pride in being American is a bit different. It’s understandable if you’ve just been sworn in as a naturalized citizen. If, however, all four of your grandparents, both your parents, and you were born and raised on US soil, I don’t see the point.

Our national arrogance has been more problematic than whatever felt need is being addressed by proclaiming pride in being an American. Yes, we do need to know who we are, understand how our country and culture shape us, and understand the power and privileges that are at our disposal so we can deploy them with lovingkindness and compassion. Paying attention to all the things that being American means – the attitudes and the assumptions that we imbibe – is crucial to self-understanding. And, yes, the U.S. has done some good in the world. As a nation, we've also done some damaging things – both abroad and to many of our own people. Comedian Chris Rock captured the ambivalence when he said:
“If you’re black, America’s like the uncle that paid your way through college but molested you.”
Being either proud or ashamed of our country serves no point. The question is just, how to take the benefits Uncle Sam conferred and use them to stop the molestation. What are you going to do with the privileges of being American? Are you putting your inheritance to good use?

Too often, we haven’t been. Our national policies have arrogantly pursued what we thought was our own self-interest without regard to what damage we were doing to other peoples. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out:
“Great nations are too strong to be destroyed by their foes. But they can easily be overcome by their own pride.”
I turn again to Martin Luther King who warned against the vice of narrow national self-interest and the sin of unquestioning national pride:
“The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach and others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ A nation that continues year after year to spend more on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. . . . A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”
Amen, Martin. Amen.
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This is part 29 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 4 of 5 on Pride)
Next: Part 30: "When Gratitude Replaces Pride"
Previous: Part 28: "Pride, the Hindrance"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


Pride, the Hindrance

Pride certainly manifests in a lot of forms. There's lost pride, wounded pride, injured pride, restored pride, simple pride, foolish pride, false pride, overweening pride, justifiable pride, lasting pride, fatherly pride, a mother’s pride, school pride, team pride, national pride. There’s pride in, pride of, pride for, and pride over. Pride and joy, pride and glory, pride and sorrow. You can nurse your pride, swallow your pride, or show your pride.

Pride was originally two of the deadly sins. The "seven deadly sins" originated as eight deadly sins when Evagrius Ponticus (b. 345) compiled his list of the deadliest sins. For Evagrius, pride was so bad that it was two deadly sins all by itself: one called pride and the other vainglory. Two centuries later Pope Gregory the First slightly revised Evagrius, combining vainglory and pride under the Latin term superbia, equivalent to the Greek hubris. Gregory’s list comes down to us as the seven deadly sins. Even though "pride" was now only one sin, it was, for Gregory, the source of all sin.

“Pride,” said Gregory is the root of all evil.” The other vices “spring from this poisonous root.”

Pope Gregory identified four species of pride:
(1) Boasting of having some excellence that you don’t have;
(2) Having certain excellences and believing that you got them entirely on your own;
(3) Having a certain excellence and believing that no one else has it;
(4) Having an excellence, understanding that it came to you from above, but still believing that it came to you from your own merit.

“Pride is the beginning of all sin” says the Bible. Well, kind of. Some Bibles say it. It’s in a book called Ecclesiasticus, not to be confused with Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiasticus, also known as Sirach, is not in the Jewish Tanakh, or in the Protestant or Catholic Bible proper. Protestants call it apocryphal and Catholics call it deuterocanonical, the second canon. For the Eastern Orthodox, however, Ecclesiasticus is simply Biblical. And it was for Augustine (b. 354). Citing Ecclesiasticus, “Pride is the beginning of all sin,” Augustine went on to argue:
St. Augustine (above) and Pope
Gregory I (top)
“Every sin is a contempt of God, and every contempt of God is pride. For what is so proud as to despise God? All sin, then, is also pride....Pride encourages humans to displace God, to act on the willful denial of human limitation, to covet unjust privileges, and to glory in itself far too much.”
What Augustine thought of as displacing God, we might call choosing the delusion of separateness over the reality of interconnection and interdependence.

Over a millennium and a half later, C. S. Lewis wrote:
“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”
And from the book of Proverbs (canonical in all the Christian traditions) we read:
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Prov 16: 18-19)
Sounds like there's something -- these writers called it "pride" -- to which we are highly vulnerable and from which the path of spiritual deepening guides us away. There's something -- call it "pride" -- that blocks our true flourishing; something the overcoming of which correlates with possibilities for the flowering of joyful connection and peace.
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This is part 28 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 3 of 5 on Pride)
Next: Part 29: "Proud To Be an American?"
Previous: Part 27: "Pride, the Wrong, and Pride, the Redress"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"


Pride, the Wrong, and Pride, the Redress

There is a designated "pride month": June. Yet “pride” is also one of the traditional seven deadly sins. There's no indication that envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, lust, or anger are going to get their own commemorative month any time soon. That’s probably because they don’t need one. Groups that have been made to feel ashamed have a need to reclaim pride.

Oppression, exclusion, disempowerment inevitably links to shame. What could justify the oppression or exclusion of a group other than some of version of a claim that the group isn’t worthy of respect and inclusion? Pride insists upon worthiness and thereby reveals as unjustified any oppression or exclusion. What could maintain discrimination better than teaching the out-group to be ashamed of who they are? Pride counteracts the forces of shame and empowers to reclaim a rightful place.

If we are sympathetic to LGBT pride, but not to the "straight pride" advanced primarily by social conservative groups, and if we are sympathetic to the black pride movement, but not to the white pride movement, it is because we discern that the forces of shame have historically and wrongfully come down hard on LGBTness or African Americanness, and not on straightness or whiteness. It is because the thing we would like to end is LGBT shame and black shame and female shame, and the corollary thing we would like to end is straight arrogance, white arrogance, and male arrogance.

Our groupings don’t exist without historical context. It’s not like it’s recess and we only just now – and randomly – chose up teams for some game. There’s a historical context that defines the reality of our identities. Against the backdrop of history we can see how arrogance emerged, developed, and manifested in some groups, and how that is connected to the corresponding shaming of other groups. Too much pride in some quarters means too little pride in others.

As the African American writer Michael Eric Dyson has observed: "White pride is the vice that makes black pride necessary."

Or, as Martin Luther King put it several decades earlier: “Yes, we must stand up and say, ‘I’m black and I’m beautiful,’ and this self-affirmation is the black man’s need, made compelling by the white man’s crimes against him.”

Pride: arrogance, vanity, hubris, haughtiness, conceit, snobbery, self-importance. In a more ideal world we would have no use for the swellings of pride. It’s true that in this actual world, far from ideal as it is, Lake Chalice supports and encourages LGBT pride, black pride, immigrant pride, Latino pride and any pride needed to bring better balance to our unbalanced world. The reason those prides are needed is to counteract harmful effects of pride. In a more ideal world, we'd have cured all shame with pride, and then cured all pride with humility.

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This is part 27 of "The Seven Deadlies" (Part 2 of 5 on Pride)
Next: Part 28: "Pride, the Hindrance"
Previous: Part 26: "Pride?"
Beginning: Part 1: "Seven and Sins"