Pride is an elated feeling of accomplishment that is too often a total load of crap! Pride tells us that it was our superior (fill-in-the-blank) that led to whatever victory we lay claim. Whether it be the winning shot in the big game; an A on the big test; a boat load of money on a great stock pick; a super hot wife; a uber talented kid; a published novel; a scientific discovery; an intuition that turns out to be true; an essay that got us into college; an interview that landed a great job; a winning hand in poker; a funny joke; a poetic rhyme; a well said obituary; a winning debate; winning an election; a poignant documentary; a blockbuster hit; a great idea; a very expensive bottle of wine; recovery from addiction; overcoming abuse; tight abs; a great sense of fashion; a TKO in the ring; an Olympic gold medal; a great smile; a guilty verdict; a kind heart; a courageous spirit; a good work ethic; a high IQ; a spiritual practice; a generous soul — all of which give us a feeling of pride, that something we can be proud of and hang our hat on when the day is done.
One of the problems with this feeling is that it is not ours alone. We didn’t do these things without the help of our teammates, coaches, teachers, mentors, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, spouses, children, friends, communities, books, internet, opponents, supporters, doctors, lawyers, therapists, doubters, jerks, haters, and just about everyone that we’ve come into contact with since our conception. And that’s just the people. We must also include all the things, ideas, environments, histories, timing and other intangibles innumerable to mention. And that’s not all. The web of life connects all sentient and non-sentient forms and we must share credit with the food that gives sustenance, the water that nourishes, the fire that warms, the light that shines, and the darkness that deepens. So too must we share with death that lurks and desire that originates. Where does the shared credit end? Who or what did we forget to thank?
Pride tells us that it was me/I that did this, and thus the ego is born and grows into a man. Why is it so important, this feeling of pride? It leads us to feel separate and superior to others. With such feelings, it is understandable then that I can act upon the Earth and all its various lifeforms with such disrespect as they are inferior to me. Due to the human brain it is easy to separate ourselves from other earthly creatures, big and small. We have superior intellect and have proven ourselves worthy of the top of the food chain. But it doesn’t stop there. We have even convinced ourselves that we are superior to nature in our ability to erect skyscrapers capable of withstanding hurricane winds, canals to water our fields, bulldozers to topple forests, farms to feed the masses, medicines to save lives, and spaceships to fly to the moon. Still we are not done. Science has brought the almighty god to his knees through our story of evolution. Man now proudly stands above all else. Well, unless there’s a superior alien race out there in the Universe. I guess there’s still some humility left in the world.
But what separates me from you, human from human? My fear of being inferior to you leads me to seek my superiority for if I’m not better than I must be worse. If pride fills me, a lack of pride leaves me feeling very empty. Therefore I push and prod, scratch and claw to get ahead. Once there, I stomp and slash to stay there. King of the mountain is a childhood game. There is only one king of the mountain and what kid doesn’t wish it was them? Society seems to be created around these mountains. Academics, sports, science, politics, business, parenting, and even meditating get thrown into the childish sphere of unnecessary competition to fulfill our ego’s need for attention. In a world where abundance reigns, scarcity is the only game in town. Scarcity breeds fear. Fear of losing out or fear of losing what we had. Since there is only one king of the mountain, even those who have climbed very far and can see way out on the horizon still want more. We are always comparing ourselves to others in both an individual sense as well as nation, ethnicity, religion, and culture. Rather than admit we are not so different from the homeless begging for a meal or the addict looking for a fix or the bankrupted looking for a break; instead we accuse them of being stupid, ignorant, weak, worthless. Why? Because it makes our own sense of self feel proud to be above someone else. Turns out all too often that those who appear above got there by bending the rules, taking advantage of others, being ruthless, cunning, and cheats. If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying is the motto. Others who got to the top may have done so based upon their genetics and early childhood development of which they had little control. Pride too seems evident by the many successes that seem to have a chip on their shoulder trying to prove themselves better than the rest based on some hurt they’ve experienced in the past.
The United States began its ascent by stealing and killing the native peoples and later on the backs of African slaves. It’s history includes manipulating the world currency, other nation’s sovereignty, and multi-national corporate greed that leaves developing nations much worse than they started. Here in the US we believe that we are a superior nation with the best government and most productive economy the world has ever seen. Not too different than the Germans and Japanese prior to WWII. And throughout history, religion has separated the masses to believe that their god was supreme and their people the chosen ones. When the truth is revealed, that we are all chosen, war is waged to defend defenseless beliefs. It is easier to kill the messenger than accept the truth.
What does this tell you about our emotional make-up? We are a very vulnerable species with emotions that run deeper than our intellect admits. We a pained by the shame of being less than god and, while we are only human, it appears most of us are unwilling to accept our lot in life. Humans depend on the ecology for survival. The humblest of substances, water, is what gives us life on Earth. The Sun, which is totally out of our control, controls our days and nights. The wind will blow whether we want it to or not. The rains fall at the clouds command, despite all our dancing. The Earth shakes without warning. We are one of the many life forms here on Earth and our ancestry pales in comparison to the alligator or shark. Even non-sentient beings like plants have significantly more complex DNA than do humans. We have our hearts broken, our self-esteem squashed, our importance questioned, our memories erased, our bodies returned, and our legacies forgotten. In the history of the Earth we are but a speck. Yet our pride doesn’t allow us to accept these truths. Our pride insists that we are more than animals, which explains why growing old is even more emotionally painful than physically, and immortality sought by even the wisest of fools.
The Buddha suggests that suffering is the result of wanting things to be different than they are, or a failed acceptance of the truth with lasting attachments to false dreams and unrealistic goals. No wonder these teachings are still relevant today. We continue to fight the truth and wish for ourselves to be superior to the cycle of life. To feel reverence and awe requires a humble being that can be awed by something as small as a seed, as empty as the sky, as insignificant as a rock, or as vulnerable as a human.