Pride gets a bad rap, but we wouldn't get too far without it

Innovation Hub
Superbia is a Latin term signifying "Pride."

Superbia is a Latin term signifying "Pride."

Pride gets a bad rap. We associate it with narcissism and vanity. It’s first on the list of the seven deadly sins.

But where would we be without pride? Jessica Tracy, author of "Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success," argues that without a sense of pride, people would accomplish, well, not much of anything.

“Pride is really the thing that gets us off the couch and toward achieving,” she says. “Toward giving up temptations, toward giving up the easier route, sacrificing all those things to become the kind of person we want to be.”

Tracy believes that pride is an essential human emotion — like happiness, fear or jealousy — and, like most emotions, can be positive or negative. On the good side, there’s “authentic” pride. It’s the feeling we get from our accomplishments: like running a marathon, writing a computer program or raising a child. Tracy says this is what pushes us to set goals and work to achieve them.

It’s also what keeps us striving when it would be easier to give up. “There are days when we say, ‘Hey, I’m going chill out today and just relax and watch some TV and drink some beers,’” she says. “But there are other days where we say, ‘No. ... I’m going to do the hard thing. I want to run that marathon, even though the training is going to really hurt, and it would be much easier to lie on the couch.’ We have this desire to feel good about ourselves so desperately that we will give up these more basic level needs in order to attain it.”

On the other side of the coin, though, is “hubristic” pride. This is the kind of pride we associate with the seven deadly sins, the kind that inspires people to act unethically in pursuit of their ambitions — to lie, steal or cheat their way to the top. Tracy says this kind of pride can arise from many situations, but often starts with well-earned, authentic pride — like the kind you might experience after winning a race, writing a book or coming out on top in an election. The feelings you get from this kind of accomplishment can become almost addictive, and some people will do anything to rekindle them.

“If you start getting those feelings and kind of clinging to them and really relying on them, you forget that really the way to get them is to keep trying to achieve,” Tracy says. “Instead it becomes about anything you can do to get the accolades. And so, sure, cheating is a much easier way to get the accolades.”

Tracy says that the distinction between these kinds of pride is essential. It’s important to recognize the pitfalls of hubris, but it’s equally necessary to foster the kind of authentic pride that inspires people to strive toward important achievements.

“People who feel authentic pride are, for most of us, the kind of people we want our kids to be,” she says. “High achieving, outgoing, extroverted. Yes, successful. But not bragging about it. I think that’s a really important message because without pride, we really wouldn’t have the motivation to achieve the amazing things that we’ve done.”

This story was first published by PRI's Innovation Hub.