By Derek McDonald
What comes to mind when you think of pride? Is it a co-worker who constantly boasts about his sales accomplishments? An athlete who takes all the credit for his success for himself? Maybe a middle school bully who used to put you down?
I tend to think of a prideful individual in this way: a person who builds him or herself up inordinately. The oppressive teen, the gloating athlete, and the self-satisfied salesperson all seem to fit the bill. But over time I’ve had to expand my understanding of pride beyond people like O’Doyle of Billy Maddison fame. To explain, I present myself as evidence in the complicated case of the problem of pride.
You see, I have a pride problem even though I’ve never been particularly like any of the archetypes mentioned, above.
I put in extra effort to be nice, obliging. Making a good impression is often the top priority. In fact, I often do all that I can to avoid causing others even the slightest discomfort or inconvenience.
Sound like pride to you? If not, keep reading.
As a victim of real people like the character O’Doyle, I vowed to never be that guy to someone else. To avoid the sin of pride, myself, I decided to run headlong in the opposite direction. I would be helpful and subservient; never harsh or imposing.
I set out to be, in a word, humble.
Humility is the answer, I thought. And, indeed, in many ways a good dose of humility does curb pride. The problem is, sometimes I drink so heavily of humility that, in a way, I become sick with it. I have a tendency to be “hyper-humble,” and that’s a bad thing, like hyperglycemia or hypertension.
What does “hyper-humility” look like? It’s when I avoid confrontation because I don’t want to seem pushy. It’s when I have the answer to a question but I don’t give it because I don’t want to be seen as a know-it-all.
If pride is when I inordinately build myself up, “hyper-humility” is a way I inordinately tear myself down.
Both are ways of presenting the world with something other than my true self. Both are manifestations of a flawed self-understanding, and in that sense they are two sides of the same dangerous coin.
What if the prophet Jonah from today’s first reading was “hyper-humble” and chose not to share his prophetic witness for fear of offending, or imposing upon, the people of Nineveh? Would the king have rallied his people to conversion from their wicked ways?
What about the story of Martha and Mary we read today from Luke’s Gospel?
Mary sits at the feet of the Lord while her sister, Martha, “burdened with much serving,” complains to Jesus. "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me," Martha protests. Jesus replies that “Mary has chosen the better part.”
We may assume that Martha was just as worthy as Mary to sit at Christ’s side, so why didn’t she?
I can’t know Martha’s mind, but I wonder, did Martha falsely believe that she didn’t belong? Did she falsely believe that she had to busy herself to impress Jesus? As someone who struggles with the unassuming flip side of pride, I can identify with both of these sentiments.
Recognizing the complexity of pride over time has been a great help to me across the board.
Slowly but surely, I’m learning to choose the “better part”
the better part that means embracing the moment and being who Christ wants me to be rather than who I think I’m supposed to be. Aim too high or too low and I miss the mark. What I’ve found helps most is to aim for Jesus. It’s only when I stop looking at myself and focus on Him that things really come into focus. In this way, relying on His help, I uncover the real me more and more each day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Derek is just another Catholic husband and father, figuring life out on a day-to-day basis. A native New Englander, he's likely to start dropping his "r"s should he get too close to Boston. Derek loves spending time with his wife and children, and also enjoys studying theology, finding new music, and traditional Chinese martial arts.