Solzhenitsyn says “Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.”
Dante places Pride at the foot of Mount Purgatory and imagines how it might take hundreds of years for us to pay its price. First we must wander along this first cornice – bowed down by the weight of a giant boulder carried on on our back.
But why is Pride the first and most dangerous sin? In what sense is it particularly dangerous? After all we can use the word Pride in a very positive way. I remember as a very small child being told off by my parents ‘Don’t be so proud, Simon!’ And I remember thinking to myself ‘Why shouldn’t I be proud? Isn’t pride a good thing?’ We imagine a proud knight in shining armour. We imagine a happy child beaming with pride at their achievement.
What is the key to unlocking the problem of Pride?
Perhaps it is to do with how we love ourselves. A proper love of ourself is necessary. It is not that we should love others instead of ourselves, it as we should love them as ourselves. Implicit in this is the assumption that love is real love – a real care and concern for the best interests of the person.
In this sense, good self-love – proper Pride in oneself – also assumes humility and a desire for change, improvement and making the best of ourselves. To not take care of our own needs, to not develop ourselves, is a moral failing. This is not about ‘just loving ourselves for the way we are’ rather it is about challenging ourselves to be the best that we can be – in the knowledge of our own needs and weaknesses.
But if this kind of self-love is not the problem then what is?
Part of this problem may be that in loving ourselves we struggle to avoid (a) thinking ourselves better than other people and (b) better than God. We seem unable to simply get on with doing the best we can. Instead we put ourselves at the centre of things. We lose sight of the value and gifts of other people and we lose sight of our place in God’s kingdom. Perhaps all our other failings and sins are rooted in this first sin – we put ourselves at the centre of things.
I love this piece of Jewish wisdom which captures the paradox of Pride most beautifully:
Just before he died, the Baal Shem told his disciples that the one among them who would teach them how to overcome pride would be his successor. The problem was put to each of them; the Maggid happened to be called first. His answer: Since pride is one of God’s attributes, man cannot uproot it entirely, all at once; it must be fought every day and at every moment. This reply was so favourably received, no one else was questioned.
From Souls on Fire by Elie Wiesel
Or to quote Anna Akhmatova:
Just save me from pride
The rest I can manage.