Pride has four species: boastfulness, ostentation, hypocrisy, and ambition. When we see them displayed in others, we find them to be most unattractive. However, we persist in adopting them for ourselves. This is the great paradox of pride. What we find revolting in others, we choose for ourselves. How can we rid ourselves of this foolish and unbecoming vice? There are, fortunately, practical ways in which we can turn each one of these four species of pride aside.
The temptation to brag about our accomplishments is very strong. A practical antidote for praising oneself is to praise others. No matter how well we do anything, there are innumerable others who do it better. It is far more reasonable to praise others rather than envy them. Envy makes us unhappy and gets us nowhere. We should rejoice in the accomplishments of others and be grateful for being able to share their gifts. The distinguished pianist Arthur Rubinstein once said that he was so grateful for the works of Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and other great composers, that he would have been willing to die for them. When we praise others, rather than ourselves, we overcome the urge to boast. This gives us a wonderful freedom from the futile task of trying to convince others that we are better than we are.
Ostentation is assuming the role of the peacock, or, to put it more simply, being a “show-off.” Boasting involves words, ostentation involves possessions. The acquisitive person tries to impress others with his attire, his wealth, his status, and even his automobile. The competition to outdo others can be most frustrating. Liberace once told the world that his favorite slogan read: “the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.” Preoccupation with possessions can interfere with growing up. “Keeping up appearances” can be a losing game. If we develop our inner selves (at no financial cost), the urge to flaunt what we have begins to disappear. We are richer and far more interesting as persons than as competitors in the rat race.
We all try to convince others that we are better than we know ourselves to be. To make matters even more difficult, we are urged, as the saying goes, to “put our best foot forward.” But it is not easy to practice what we preach. The obvious cure for hypocrisy is being honest with oneself and admitting that we should not “put on airs” that falsifies how we live. Rather, we should live in such a way that we can back up what we preach by having put it into practice. Integrity, therefore, is the answer to hypocrisy. People admire integrity and detest hypocrisy. But our integrity is both difficult to attain and precarious when it is attained. The person of integrity realizes that he must remain humble if he is to retain his integrity.
Ambition differs from destiny. Our ambitions may run counter to the destiny that God has assigned for us. We cannot read the future. Therefore, our ambitions are often based on ignorance. In addition, they are concocted with solely the self in mind, and not the plan that God has in mind for us. In Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, an ambitious, but embittered Cardinal Wolsey realizes the futility of his ambitions. In a desperate mood, he says: “Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, he would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies.” His sin brought to his awareness one of more primordial significance. He turns to Cromwell and says, “I charge thee, fling away ambition: By that sin fell the angels.” When we are faithful to God, our destiny falls into place and becomes evident. Whatever ambitions we have are merely provisional. God has our destiny pre-planned.
In summary, we can set pride aside by: 1) praising others rather than one’s self. 2) being more attentive to our spiritual development than to our accumulation of possessions. 3) making sure that we practice what we preach. 4) allowing God to make our destiny manifest. These are four practical ways in which we can dispel pride and allow the realism of humility to take its place. To be humble is to be who we are. To be proud is the hopeless attempt to live a fictitious existence.