How should we view pride?

“How should we view pride?” Ensign, Sept. 1977, 40–42

We have been told that pride is one of the “seven deadly sins” (see Prov. 6:16–19) and also that all the proud will be destroyed when the Lord comes (see Mal. 4:1). But we are also told to take pride in our work, in our appearance, in our homes, and in our heritage. How should we view pride?

Irene Bates, teacher development instructor, Pacific Palisades Ward, and stake cultural refinement leader, Santa Monica California Stake Because we tend to use words loosely, meanings get confused, and this is particularly troublesome when we talk of pride. In the positive sense, pride means self-respect. Used negatively, it becomes self-centeredness. Self-respect is sustained by an inner reservoir (the beginnings of which are developed by favorable interaction with parents and others), while pride seeks only external gratifications.

In its deepest manifestation, self-respect is the recognition that we are the children of God—and valued by him; pride in its most extreme form relies only upon success, prestige, and material rewards to confirm one’s feelings of personal worth. Self-respect frees us to think of others; pride chains us to self. Self-respect allows enrichment and expansion of the spirit; pride thrives only in poverty of the spirit—and because of this it can devour the soul.

In the Book of Mormon there are many instances that illustrate only too clearly the dangers of pride, even within the Church. When Alma took his sons, Shiblon and Corianton, to preach the word of God to the Zoramites, he was not on a mission to unbelievers. He was attempting to bring back the truth in all its purity to those who had been diverted in their worship by the desire for wealth and pride of position. “Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride.” (Alma 31:27.) They had cast out the poor from their churches “because of the coarseness of their apparel.” (Alma 32:2.)

Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, together with Moronihah, had to contend with the pride of the Nephites “among those … who professed to belong to the church of God.” (Hel. 4:11.) They had become very rich and proud, oppressing the poor, denying the hungry and the naked, and “smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek.” (Hel. 4:12.)

The son of Nephi, in his account of his people, says of them at one time, “They had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (4 Ne. 1:3.) For a period of more than 150 years “there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Ne. 1:15.) As they became prosperous, however, they began to seek greater status, to divide into classes, to build churches for gain, and to deny the truths by which they had previously lived.

This is such a common pattern in the history of Christianity that, although it may be difficult to understand how such radical change can occur in a once-righteous people, we tend to see it as simply part of a long, insidious process, with people gradually being seduced by the riches and temptations of the world. But perhaps there is another way of looking at it. Instead of seeing pride only as evidence of arrogance, self-sufficiency, and worldly greed, we might be more accurate to understand it as indicative of spiritual poverty—a deep longing to experience a feeling of worth.

Sometimes in our natural preoccupation with the challenge of earning a living (coupled with the satisfactions of material rewards), or perhaps in our desire to create a beautiful home, or even in our righteous determination to magnify a Church calling, we may get carried along in our enthusiasm and ambition and forget that these things are simply a means to an end. As soon as they become our goals, we are failing to recognize what is most important to the Lord—the happiness and well-being of his children. As we cease to be in harmony with the purpose of God in this sense, some quite unintended consequences catch us unawares. We cannot devalue other people without robbing ourselves too, and so we become enmeshed, almost without realizing it, in a changed value system in which people gradually become less and less important in our hearts and minds. Inescapably we exchange a little of our own self-respect at that time for what Isaiah calls the “fading flower” of pride. (Isa. 28:1.)

It may well be that the beginning of pride among the saints of the Book of Mormon could be traced to that moment when they began to have less time for each other, less appreciation, and less love. Without the feeling of intrinsic worth, man becomes defenseless and insecure, dependent upon external evidences of personal value. The spirit stands naked and vulnerable and in need of constant reassurance, and because material things can seldom satisfy the spirit, the need becomes insatiable. Pride then becomes the taskmaster of the impoverished soul.

How can we avoid or escape this “snare of the soul” (see D&C 90:17) that ends by robbing us of our self-respect? True humility cannot rest in simply thinking little of ourselves. Does it not rather depend upon our capacity to appreciate and value other human beings, whoever they might be? Jesus Christ lived, suffered, and died for every one of God’s children. If we could contemplate that for a few moments in each day of our busy lives, we might be helped immeasurably to avoid the pitfall of pride. When blessed with abundance we might then long to share our plenty. When achieving some great purpose, we might feel overwhelming gratitude for opportunities to develop God-given talents (and maybe desire to help others enjoy similar chances). When vast reservoirs of knowledge unfold to us, we might feel reverence for truth wherever it is found, together with a humble awareness of the infinitude of knowledge, instead of denying the validity of other men’s thoughts—a closed-mindedness born of fear, which is only another form of pride.

Pride cannot exist where there is true self-respect. It cannot exist when there is a closeness to the Lord. Pride is evidence of a deep spiritual hunger that can be satisfied only by loving as Jesus loved, unconditionally, and by discovering the truth of his promise that “he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35.)