Pride is a particularly interesting characteristic of our human experience. It is a double-edged sword with an ambivalent effect in our daily occurrences — too much of it will lead to arrogance, too little will lead to inhibition. Yet where does pride come from? It does not emerge purely from the depths of our souls, but rather, is always rooted on something. It need not be material to begin with, but pride is possible solely as a byproduct of comparison. One can be proud of their achievements, possessions or capacities only if they can be compared to someone else’s. “Rich,” “smart,” “strong,” “fast,” “kind,” “good” — all of these adjectives are relative. You are strong exclusively because someone is not; you can only be slow if someone is faster than you. As there cannot be light without darkness, there cannot be good without bad. Call it a property of physics or a linguistic necessity, much of the descriptive terminology we employ simply denotes the difference between things. It is in this difference where pride sparks.
Nevertheless, this is where the story of pride turns ambiguous. That is because, though the origin might lie here, every person experiences and externalizes pride in their very own manner. To attempt to cover them all here is an endeavor similar to that of trying to explain the entire human spectrum of emotions. This is a labor I shall leave for philosophers and psychologists alike (they have been at it for quite a while now). Rather, I would like to focus on the fascinating relationship pride has with a human construct that is supposed to (yet fails to) be detached from emotion: that of justice.
Due to its sociological nature, justice is especially complicated to define. This is because justice both in concept and application is entirely subjective. Though there is an image of justice generated by the culture one resides in, the ultimate answer as to what is just tends to be a personal ethical dilemma. Irregardless of what that answer may be, it is, however, an important attribute to enable the complete sprout of pride in one’s heart. That is to say: when something is obtained, if it is obtained in a manner that follows the principles of one’s idealized justice, it will be an ever greater reason for pride. This allows the individual to experience pride against someone else’s achievement of equal (or even grander) magnitude if it is believed that this other achievement was attained with an unjust methodology.
Yet what constitutes an unjust methodology? Where is the line drawn when something was achieved “the right way?” Every person makes this decision and, when pride overshines reason, it can blind one’s sense of true justice. This is due to the fact that pride can also act as a method of self-preservation, for it is the confirmation that a person’s position in the world is secure; it guarantees that their efforts have significance and will leave an impact one way or the other as opposed to someone else’s. When you come to terms with the reality that your survival is temporary, you begin to fixate on the idea of leaving a legacy behind as your rebellion against your finite nature – although there are only so many names that shall be remembered. Thus, pride can mutate into the assurance that your name shall overtake another’s when history is written. This can evolve into a rather selfish way of experiencing the world: to perpetually and unconsciously seek to outlive the other. While this frame of mind is certainly not present in every person, it is definitely an observable trend in a society as competitive and individualistic as the one that inhabits this country.
As a consequence, when a subjective sense of justice matches a dormant yet desperate pride, friction is the inevitable result of exposure to the real world. For the real world will forever be unjust – it shall never identically match one’s model of justice. To every rule, an exception can be presented: imperfection that may never be standardized. This friction becomes, then, frustration. A frustration that is channeled into this external unjust world and its inhabitants, who surely are to be blamed for the state of the world, no? This is a severely unwise conclusion that some have fallen prey to.
Let us consider the following scenario. When you achieve something after a long and arduous journey, one where seemingly insurmountable obstacles were toppled over and every challenge was rightfully overcome, you can feel pride over your newfound position. However, what if someone else happens to reach this same achievement without suffering anywhere near as much as you did? Said pride is bound to flare up, to roar and groan at the idea of someone simply strolling right into success without undergoing the same if not a greater degree of suffering as a prerequisite! How dare they?!
Yet is that not the goal of human development to begin with? Do we not aim to facilitate the life of others in any way we can? Collectively we take monumental strides to make life easier and to enable greater heights to be reached. After all, one does not disagree with a parent’s notion to wish to make their child’s life easier.
Yet we refuse to exert this courtesy to many. For example, the phrase “back in the day, people had it harder!” as a complaint of the ease present in the current lifestyle and a compliment of the prior is one of the most apparent instances of an unequivocally selfish conclusion blinded by pride and an unfounded sense of justice which merely devolves into entitlement and a defensive impulse to lash out, to once again establish the importance of one’s sufferings over others.
In turn, pride and justice should work hand in hand to achieve the highest possible standards to defend human dignity and the support of everyone, not to be manipulated into a method of oppression over a self-indulged abstract desire for a legacy. We may have to fight against our very nature to achieve this, but once we do, would it not be one of the most appropriate things to feel proud of?
Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).