Banishing conceit

Banishing conceit

Humility serves

individuals, societies

We’re proud Americans. Proud Southerners.

We’re proud of our school, our team, our town, our parentage – even our church and our religion.

But replace “proud” with similes such as “arrogant,” “haughty,” “boastful” and “conceited,” and we reveal a different story from the shined, sanitized and stamped-with-approval version of pride in which we, ahem, take pride.

Despite our failings to live by the belief, people of faith and the Scriptures we strive to live by almost universally teach against pride:

“The LORD É mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” (Judaism, Proverbs 3:33-34)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (Christianity, I Corinthians 13:4)

“É for Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vaingloriousÉ” (Islam, Quran 004.036)

“If you desire to obtain help, put away pride. Even a hair of pride shuts you off, as if by a great cloud.” (Shinto, Oracle of Kasuga)

“Shun all pride and jealousy É” (Hinduism, Srimad Bhagavatam 11.4)

“The fool who thinks he is wise is called a fool indeed.” (Buddhism, Dhammapada 63)

In Judeo-Christian scripture, it was pride that prompted the angel Lucifer to oppose God, transforming Lucifer into Satan, who inspires evil in all its forms.

If honest agnosticism dilutes the value of these writings, one can use his own eyes to see that pride – ill-conceived and misdirected – is a part of most societal ills.

How many wars could be averted if all parties swallowed a large dose of humility? How many bankruptcies would be avoided absent without the need to “keep up with the Joneses?”

For that matter, how much stronger would families – and churches and companies and communities – be if pride didn’t get in the way of forgiveness?

Almost every addiction from drugs to cigarettes to gambling begins (either consciously or unconsciously) with the prideful belief that the risks of experimenting apply to others – those weaker, less intelligent and therefore less worthy – and not to oneself.

Other personal disasters as diverse as sexually transmitted disease, reckless driving and white-collar crime contain similar prideful delusion. (Self-righteousness, of course, is the other and no less destructive side of that same delusional coin.)

If one still doubts that “pride goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18), one need only note Napoleon’s Waterloo, Hitler’s Russian winter or Western society’s celebrity circus of self-destruction.

Ironically, as readily as most of us accept pride in ourselves, wisdom teaches that we instinctively recognize how ugly arrogance is in others.

“Pride is a vice, which pride itself inclines every man to find in others, and to overlook in himself,” Samuel Johnson wrote. The corollary is those we most truly admire – Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, King and more – are people defined by humility.

For people of faith, pride poisons more than human relationships. As with Lucifer, it blurs the line between God’s omnipotence and holiness and our neediness and sinfulness.

During Lent, it is fitting that Christians pray with 19th Century Anglican clergyman James Slade:

“Give us a low and humble opinion of ourselves, that the sense of our own unworthiness, and our transgressions against thee, may move us to pity the infirmities of others, and to bear with the greatest injuries and provocations É remembering how much more we stand in need of forgiveness at thy hand.”

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