Friday, August 27, 2010


Sitting forward, his arms crossed in defense. His head slightly cocked, turning horizontally, back and forth. He talks with such aggression, as if there is a lot riding on the outcome of this debate. I know, as I make my point that it's all so futile. He's not going to change his mind, and even if I did manage to alter his perspective in any little way, he would never admit it. Look at him there, his eyes glazed over with his cynicism, looking at me with feigned condescension. Trying to make me feel small. Trying to frighten me off with his whole demeanor, like a cat that arches it's back at the sight of a curious canine. It all ends in tension. It got personal. He made it personal. Trying to personalise an argument, the hallmark of a bully. Littering the interaction with attacks on my character. And so I rose; thinking attack was the best form of defence. I sunk down to lower levels and calculatedly moved in on his weak points. After a while, I'm not sure either of us were really sure what we were even talking about. It was harder and harder to concede that he actually had made some good points; things I hadn't thought of before. In the end, a third party had to intervene and change the conversation topic because we had both become too annoying to listen to. It felt so unfinished. Nobody had won. Nobody ever does. And so we sat there bitterly, stewing in our own miserable pride.

The pitfalls of pride have long been recognized. According to Sacred History of Profound Things, by Charles Panati, it was the Greeks who first assembled a list of man's most dangerous behaviours, a list that would later be modified by the Christian Church into the seven deadly sins. Evagrius, the Greek author in question, was so worried by pride that he put it right at the top of his list. When Pope Gregory devised his seven cardinal sins, he retained pride as the most dangerous. Gregory's definition of danger arose from the degree to which the sin interfered with love, of God presumably. Accordingly, pride was seen as the sin from which all others arise. As with all the seven deadly sins, pride became associated with a particular animal (horse) and colour (violet). It was also afforded it's own specific punishment. Those guilty of excessive and unrepentant pride would do their time on the breaking wheel in Hell.

So it's obvious that pride is no modern ill. It's stigma stretches across millenia. But you wouldn't need to study ancient Greece or the early Christian period to know that pride isn't something others always take to. Pride isn't one uniform set of behaviours. It's meaning and implications are varying. The old scholastic interpretation was pride as self adoration. Self-adoration was and sometimes still is associated with someone who sees themselves as being above others. It's seen almost as a denial of humanity; a rebuttal of imperfection. Those bearing this kind of pride need not say that they consider themselves better. Instead they communicate it through their demeanor, their body language, the way they treat others. This kind of pride is probably the most blatant. A modern example would probably be best captured in Cristiano Ronaldo. Those who follow soccer will be well acquainted with the Portuguese attacker. For those of you don't, he's the one who changed clubs at the cost of 95 million euros and currently gets paid almost 250'000 euro each week. A week! Ronaldo's self confidence is beyond measure. Earlier in his career, he was criticised as a show boater who was more keen on showing off his individual skill as opposed to working for the team. Yet he overcame many of these criticisms by becoming an integral part of a well decorated Manchester United team. It took him a while. I remember watching him do truly embarassing things like doing multiple step-overs over the ball only to pass it straight to an opposing player. Showing off got him into trouble. His pride seemed like his Achilles heel. I remember many people disagreeing with me that he would eventually turn into a world class player. 'Too cocky' they said. But it was that cockiness that made him the player he is now. Ronaldo never let all the embarassing mistakes dent his confidence. He didn't care what anyone else thought. His lack of humility and total belief/worship of himself carried him through. He's good but he thinks he's the best (which he isn't). Cristiano is pride personified. He has his pride to thank for getting him where he is now. If Pope Gregory was right, he'll be doing a few eternities on the breaking wheel. But that might be a little harsh.

Being proud doesn't always mean being as big of a poseur as Ronaldo is. There are far much more subtle ways of considering yourself above others. In many ways, implicit pride is much more obstructing and annoying then the overt type. People with this kind of pride can be identified by doing things like refusing to admit they're wrong in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In an argument, they are very unlikely to say things like 'Yes, that's a good point' or 'I suppose I hadn't thought of it like that'. Instead, they become aggressive and condescending. Yet, when one looks deeper, it's seems more like they are defending themselves. Concession must be too threatening. It's like as if they have nothing else. Nothing else to lean on, no peace of mind. All they have is their pride. They would rather antagonise, be unreasonable and put others down than admit that they might not be 100% correct in what they are saying. I think all of us have been guilty of such behaviour at some stage in our lives. I also think that we can admit (those of us who are that little less proud) that it wasn't always our convictions or belief in what we thought was right that cemented our refusal to budge. There was something else. We felt as if we were under attack. We didn't ask for the fight.

He started it, thinking he could shove all his bullshit opinions down our throats. And what? We're just going to listen to that? Accept that? I couldn't let him win. He can't get away with that. We trade some blows. I can't be wrong. He can't be right. The thought of him thinking that he won this battle, that he defeated me is something I just cannot allow to happen. That's not the way it's supposed to be. Never.

What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? Too many times we find ourselves in the stalemate of an argument of attrition. The interjection of a third party pleading for us to stop. It's hard. A heated argument fueled by our sickly pride leaves us charged with a bitter feeling. It's so hard just to let go.

We've gone too far. There has to be a winner. Yet we both know there won't be. I hate you now as much you do me. We're never going admit our weaknesses. This is pointless. So we'll turn away, trying so hard to escape this horrible situation that our stupid pride got us into. But it's so hard. I look at you there trying to put a calm and indifferent face on you. As if anything I've said hasn't even registered with you. As if all your thinking about is what you're going to have for dinner. When really, I know your just as charged as I am with this bile of pride. I'd love if you fell over on your way out of the room. I'd love if you dropped that cup of tea your drinking and let a little girly scream out of you when all the hot tea landed all over your stupid t-shirt. I'd love to watch you blush in humiliation. Anything just to take you down off that high horse of yours. You fucking....

I like to think of myself as a reasonable person. However, too often, though not as often as before, I still find myself in these deadlocks. I find myself portraying arrogance because my pride is too important. It's not what I want to be. I want to be open-minded. I don't want to think like I have it all figured out. But I don't want anyone else to either..

That, perhaps, is where the problem lies. When we are confronted with a stubborn pride, we often feel the only we can respond is to reflect our opponents behaviour back to them. We want them to feel as frustrated as we do. Trading insults designed as argumentative points perpetuates itself. We could go on forever with this. It won't achieve anything. It just entrenches bad feelings of each other. Yet the truth is that we don't really resent each other. Deep down, beneath all the armour, we may actually find a profound respect for the other person. Eventhough we detest admitting it, we actually do appreciate their points of view. We can understand why they think the way they do. We regret the fact that we are locked in this bitter dispute.

Over what? I can't even remember what we're arguing about. No you said that...No I didn't say that..What? No I meant...You did? No? Oh....

Sometimes we get so bogged down in the act of arguing that we forget what even started it all. Pride truly has taken over. Even when we realise that we were actually in agreement all the time, it makes no difference. The damage has been done. The most remarkable thing about our pride is that it turns us against people we normal consider friends or allies. Maybe we're just not happy with our smoothly running friendship. Too many things are perhaps, being left unsaid. We need some excitement, some conflict. Or maybe we feel pride is more of a necessity. Our last line of defence in the great war of ego's. And all the while, I sometimes notice that we rarely talk each other up. We're almost afraid compliment each other, even though we actually do appreciate each other. Recently, I heard someone say that Irish people show affection by mocking each other. I can certainly relate to that sentiment. Yet, if true, it also means that our affection and derision may become somewhat indistinguishable. The mixed messages of such behaviour means we can sometimes be unsure whether someone is expressing their like or dislike for us. Either way, it wouldn't hurt to let each other know that we actually do think they're good people and that we appreciate them. How do we do that? I don't know. Let go of your ego, cringe a little bit and let some nice words flow out. The other person will probably reject the compliment; calculating that you are being sarchastic because you've spent your whole friendship avoiding being openly supportive. Eventually, they might learn to say 'Thanks'. Perhaps then, we would not need to fall back on our solitary pride as the only way to provide us with some sense of self-worth. All those frustrating tit for tat arguments would be a thing of the past. We could actually discuss, debate, contend, concede, agree, disagree..We could be genuinely reciprocal, taking from and giving too each other our ideas without the threat of our personalities being derided. We would feel comfortable with each other, not defensive. And if this new appraisal starts to create some Ronaldo's in our midst, then how bad? At least we can rest easy anticipating them being broken up on the wheel.


  1. Good Work Der...and I agree totally, Bryan can be extremely annoying sometimes.

  2. Fantastic read..u big Irish leprechaun..ha ha i do amuse myself!

    However i would like to point out that i feel pride is a good thing. Many of us work very hard in life to earn our pride and i feel that pride + self belief are major catalysts that drive us forward. Maintaining an open mind to others and there perceptions, beliefs and experiences douse not mean you have to swallow your pride! On the contrary i believe you can actually pride yourself on being receptive to the opinions and skills of others and the realisation that you simply cannot experience, know or do it all. I personally feel the major issue here i ego! As i mentioned we work very hard to be the people we are today, weather consciously or unconsciously, and when our belief systems, experiences, skills and knowledge..all that defines us.. comes under attack we defend it with our ego. I personally think the issue is weather or not we are able to swallow our ego. And that if we can is something we should pride ourselves on!

  3. Thanks. I'm not a leprechaun myself but i'll tell them you said Hi.

    I feel that I dealt with pride as a catalyst and positive thing by discussing how successful Ronaldo has become because of his pride. Like i said in the article, pride has many varying definitions and interpretations. So you're right, you can be proud of being an open receptive person. You are also right in saying that a major aspect is ego. My focus on pride, in the stubborn sense, stemmed from trying to opine how it is actually a defense mechanism as opposed to genuine self-appraisal. I did mention conflict of ego and also how we need to let go of it to praise others sometimes. Maybe the article is slightly Irish centric in that sense.

    Thanks for the feedback.