Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim
but man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal…
Measure for Measure Act II, Scene ii
Being filled with pride or languishing in humility is a far cry from acknowledging someone and a job well done. Are these different universes? Like all polarities, such as up and down, hot and cold, mine and yours, pride and humility are simply opposite conceptualizations of one dimension, dreamed up by our imaginary self or ego-mind, that stand for or point to our direct experience in the world. Of course, ego purely as a tool may find conceptualizations across polarities to be useful for our survival, development and productivity in our worldly lives. At the same time everything in the world, including all polarities, is phenomenal, empirical and relative, that is, comes and goes, arises and fades, appears and disappears. Nothing in the empirical world or paramount reality, including our mental, feeling and relational lives, is by its nature unchanging, timeless or infinite since all this remains in the Absolute realm. The vision in this writing is to deeply deconstruct one polarity, specifically pride and humility, as an entryway to timeless Presence and who we truly are. To see polarities for just what they are, lightly note their usefulness at times, and mainly to surrender giving great meaning, importance or investment to them, can reveal the Absolute that is already here and without opposite.
The ancient Greeks warned of what they considered the “eternal sin” of hubris or false pride. What if all pride is false? Pride understood as one’s imaginary self or ego being puffed up, pleased and enamored with itself is one of the infamous seven deadly sins to be shunned. On the other hand, parents and teachers, coaches and politicians, advertisers and popular culture unendingly support being proud in bolstering self-esteem, hard work, outstanding performances, sports teams, country’s nationalism, racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as selling everything from tampons to condominiums. What gives with pride? Is humility any less false?
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There is tremendous value in drawing distinctions in helping illuminate, provide clarity and reveal awareness where there had been uncertainty, ambivalence and confusion. The aim here is to tease out the meanings of pride and its polarity of humility from authentic acknowledgment that transcends them both. Any dictionary will tell you that pride is most commonly understood as holding an unduly high opinion of oneself, conceit and excessive self-esteem. It is also defined in terms of having delight and satisfaction with one’s own or another’s achievements and is synonymous with arrogance and haughty behavior. Vanity is close to pride in suggesting an exaggerated desire to be admired by others for one’s appearance, achievements and so on.
What makes pride false is the attachment to both unmerited qualities, like being rich given marrying into or inheriting money and some physical quality inherited given so-called good genes, and being excessively self-satisfied over accomplishments or milestones in normal development, like passing a class or exam, getting a job, or being hard working on some task. Do even earned or merited accomplishments require pride or tremendous self-satisfaction? Isn’t radiating a glow of genuine acknowledgment in what one has done and who one is in doing it enough? Isn’t success its own virtue and reward? In this context, an absurd portrait of the king of beasts illustrates pride most false:
A joke told in story form goes that an egotistical lion, the king of beasts and the top of the food chain, was feeling rather full of himself one day. The lion took a notion to eat an entire bull. And so he did, he ate the entire bull! Afterwards, feeling even more full of himself, he let loose a bone-chilling, ferocious roar that resonated for what seemed like minutes throughout the jungle. Unbeknownst to the lion, there was a big-game hunger nearby who promptly shot and killed the lion. The moral of the story: if you’re full of bull, you best keep your mouth shut!
When any one speaks with exaggeration and overconfidence, this behavior is usually experienced as off-putting, arrogant and haughty, and not inspiring confidence and credibility in the observer and listener. Pride is one of the key desires of the ego understood as the false separate sense of self, and is the primary specific attachment in myriad forms of desire, greed and grasping that is associated with suffering according to Shakyamuni Buddha and in Buddhism. The aphorism “Pride goes before a fall” is well known for a purpose-false pride is so very common a human experience and precedes a stumbling on one’s journey. With our brains and minds so predisposed to a “negativity bias,” is it any wonder our imaginary sense of self may take any apparent good and blow that out of proportion, temporarily thinking we’re the best thing since sliced bread. As short-lived as pride usually is, it may well be an evolutionary relief from the unmitigated negativity of our ego and its prime directive to survive at all costs, see a range of stimuli as threatening, fearful and alarming, and constantly resist them creating high chronic stress. Survival is fine. The rest only sounds unendingly self-defeating because it is.
The flip side of pride and opposite end of the polarity is humility, usually defined in dictionaries as the absence of pride or self-assertion and the state of being humble. This definition, in turn, means showing or having a consciousness of one’s shortcomings or defects, modest, not proud and not self-assertive. Humility can also mean to act in a self-depreciatory manner, possibly to show self-sacrifice, evoke admiration or ingratiate yourself to others. The word humble has its root in the Latin humilis meaning small, slight and low, and is akin to humus, meaning the earth or soil. It is little wonder how the word humiliate, meaning to hurt the pride or dignity of by causing to seem foolish or contemptible, is derived from the word humble.
Humility in the sense of being aware of one’s areas of challenge can be a key awareness in forging a successful path through life since you can then take measures to mitigate these blind spots and liabilities. Often it is a far better use of resources to broaden, deepen and heighten strengths than to build up weaknesses. Here is where hiring a consultant or delegation to another who has complimentary strengths in areas you do not have is the height of wisdom, efficiency and effective living. Such wise decisions looks like you are playing square in an honest self-awareness and not humility at all.
Isn’t humility, as with pride, just another strategic angle the ego-mind uses to take and keep apparent control? The whole notion of staying humble for fear of appearing arrogant, egocentric and selfish appears not only self-manipulative, but also utterly misguided and misdirected. Driven by the mind’s fear, how can humility be a contribution to anyone? Humility often looks like another ego agenda and manipulation to look good, not look bad and get whatever the mind thinks it wants. For instance, one experiences a lovely achievement in life and acts in a magnanimous and gracious manner in accepting some award or accolade, and gives thanks to everyone who assisted the effort. This is simply acknowledging what it is, and I suggest has nothing to do with humility. Does our Source desire or need our acting humble? What’s the point?
Awakening in awareness is a remarkable movement because in this space or “where you are coming from” inside yourself you can begin to recognize and identify the timeless acknowledgment of uplifting qualities, far from the pride of puffed up ego. In pride notice in this moment the mind apparently thinking and feeling great about itself over the unearned or unmerited, a chance or random event, achievements in normal development that are all blown out of proportion, and triumphant achievements as well. Simply see what the mind does with these phenomena. Simply see what the mind gets out of the imaginary praise that typically lifts it one notch up, while pushing others and their labor one notch down by contrast. Once seen, what draw, pull or interest does it have?
Acknowledgement offers another verbal or written recognition in words for what intentions and actions are taken as well as for the person taking them. Feedback in the form of an acknowledgement can help provide breath-taking joy and honesty in our relationships. Also it can serve as social lubricant to a well-functioning relationship by letting the receiver of this feedback know that they make a difference. Sweet moments.
For example, you acknowledge your partner’s intention and efforts to clear their “piles” from the living room or you acknowledge your client’s openness to learn, grow and adapt in your professional consulting relationship. He or she glows. One can also acknowledge another for character qualities he or she possesses and point to specific actions that support this. For instance, you notice how well someone follows through with agreements, stays in touch when plans change, and is candid and disclosing in conversations, and you point out these actions and acknowledge this one for clearly demonstrating responsibility and honesty as well as being a responsible, honest person. It’s likely to make both your days!
What is more acknowledging, heart-warming and fulfilling in human relations than for one to be seen, heard, felt and known, have his or her character, personality and contribution spotlighted? Better still is to give and receive acknowledgment for who you truly are in expressing some divine virtue, quality or sentiment. Does it get any better?
It’s perfectly fine and helpful to give everyone support and positive reinforcement in the form of acknowledgment as progressive steps are taken to realizing your vision for your life. At the same time, you may question whether it is necessary to give strokes in the form of pride for what you are doing. Sure it may spur you on and give a boost to you and your efforts, and whom is it boosting? In looking and seeing for yourself, isn’t it the ego-mind that is boosting itself, as it typically can be counted on to do unendingly? How helpful is this once you recognize that you are only further handing over your life to you mind? All you end up with is only another supped-up version, imitation, fabrication and simulation of your life, instead of your actual life? Does this call and beckon you?
Another possibility is to lightly and joyously touch the base of authentic acknowledgment of life itself, including you and others and all that is progressive and uplifting as well as all the breakdowns and failures, since everything can be seen to serve as springboards and catalysts to our continued growth, development and evolution. Without making anything wrong-the poison of condemnation-you can bet on everyone and everything, just like Our Source does moment by moment by moment timelessly.
What does it cost to extend and lend a hand to life being life, ranging from the exaltation of authentic achievements to the sorrow of loss and failure in some venture that has yet to work? Does the ego-mind’s agenda of using pride and humility to further take control of our lives have any place in this picture? Do any polarities, particularly negative and judgmental ones, have any place in a well-lived life? We can all move on with life very well indeed in straightforwardly seeing what we see, learning from everything and everyone, all without the mind’s stirring the pot once more. God knows the ego as a fictive sense of self could use a very well deserved vacation for a very long time, and leave all of us alone to carry on with the joyous and challenging work of life itself. If polarities are only relative conceptualizations, none of which are “true” or “real” in the sense of being present in this living moment, then what is always here, never changes, and is infinite, eternal and undivided without an opposite? What transcends polarities?
The divine qualities of Love, Light, Truth, Beauty, Kindness, and the Good have their opposites reversed through the lenses of the ego-e.g., hate, darkness, falsehood, cruelty, ugliness, and the bad. Conversely, in the Pure Perception of Original Nature, these qualities do not have an opposite. Each purely reflects God’s Wholeness. Through Pure Perception, a felt sense of Being in this moment has no opposite, only Being itself.
The absence is as close as it comes to depicting what has no opposite-divine qualities in the Absolute Reality. Medieval philosopher St. Augustine was possibly the first to articulate this understanding with the precept “privatio bonum” or “absence of good”. Defining evil as the absence of good, for example, illuminates how paired qualities have an inverse relationship of absence and presence, rather than opposites.
The Absolute Divine possesses no opposite, whether appearing as qualities, virtues, or sentiments. All gets misperceived through the lenses of ego. An appearance of opposites is only two aspects of the same thing. The Tao Te Ching says, “When something positive occurs, it contains within it the seeds of negative and positive.” Also, something appearing negative contains within it the seeds of the affirmative and negative.
Darkness is an absence of light; unconsciousness is an absence of awareness; phoniness is an absence of authenticity; being uninspired is absence of being enthusiastically inspired; and all ignorance, separation, attachment and suffering are only an absence of Oneness. Similarly, indifference is an absence of love; deception is an absence of truth; despair is an absence of faith; ugliness is an absence of beauty; cruelty is an absence of kindness; and abuse, violence, and war are an absence of the Good.
Now it can be self-evident that Truth, Love and Acknowledgment have no opposite and reveal timeless changeless Awareness and True Self. See polarities for just what they are, and you remove your ego’s lenses and distorted perceptions, revealing the Absolute. What is already here within you-actually who you truly are-awaits only Awareness.
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