God the Mother
by Janice Allred
Pride or Self-Esteem?
Toward a Mormon Concept of the Self
[p.110]It was from other Christians, not Mormons, that I learned pride is a sin. Of course, as I grew up in the Mormon church, I occasionally heard pride denounced and humility recommended; it did not escape my notice that pride was considered a vice and humility its corresponding virtue, but after years of Mormon religious instruction, my impression was that pride was certainly a minor fault and humility only one virtue among many. In terms of exhortation, pride received nothing compared to the attention that sexual sin did and humility was far behind chastity as a virtue.
In the course of my reading as a girl and a young woman, I became aware that a certain kind of Christian upbringing was much harder on pride than Mormonism is, and I concluded that this was more evidence of the truth of Mormonism. For it seemed to me that the pride denounced was often admirable and that, at least in novels, breaking the proud spirit was much wickeder than pride itself. In my mind, pride was associated with independence, achievement, and excellence. Pride was the integrity of the individual who resisted tyranny, never ceased striving for a goal and refused to compromise standards.
Of course, as I read the scriptures or heard them quoted, I realized that they always condemned pride. The disparity between my estimation of the nature of pride and that of the prophets did not bother me for many years. I assumed that the pride they condemned was vanity or arrogance—the vanity that is excessively concerned with appearances and that needs the admiration of others to confirm its admiration of itself, or the arrogance that looks down on others because they are inferior in wealth, breeding, education, or status. In the Book of Mormon the Nephites always seemed to become proud whenever they became rich. Then they started wearing fine [p.111]apparel and thinking they were better than others just because they were rich and well dressed, and this led them to persecute those whom they considered inferior. I could certainly understand why that was wrong, although the attitude seemed more stupid than sinful. Hence, I began to distinguish between good and bad pride, never really asking myself if there was any relationship between them. My inclination, however, was to admire good pride and to consider bad pride a somewhat trifling sin.
So I was surprised to learn that many Christian theologians regard pride as the worst of all sins, in fact, as the root of sin. I discovered this after I started reading non-Mormon theologians in my early twenties. Metaphysical questions had always enthralled me, but my attempts to explore them were not encouraged nor was my appetite for theology satisfied by the people, programs, and literature that constituted the church for me during my youth. So it was with joy that I discovered the philosophy section of the public library. Philosophy led me to theology where I learned that non-Mormon theologians had a great deal to say about what I had once supposed were uniquely Mormon concerns.
My concept of the nature of pride changed gradually as I considered what I had learned from Christian theologians and as I examined myself and observed others. As I studied the scriptures more seriously, particularly the Book of Mormon, I came to realize that a remarkable agreement exists between Christian theologians and Book of Mormon prophets on the subject of pride.
I would like to begin my analysis of pride with a point on which I think there is widespread agreement—the belief that there is good pride and bad pride. But first I need to be clear about the kind of thing pride is. It is a mental or spiritual thing—a condition, emotion, judgment, or quality of the mind or spirit. (This may be one reason why Mormons have difficulty thinking of pride as a sin. We tend to think of sin as something we do; perhaps it is an inner something, a specific thought or emotion or motive, but we rarely consider sin to be a condition of the spirit.)
Certainly the word pride is sometimes used pejoratively and sometimes as a term of approbation. What then is the relationship between the two concepts? Perhaps they are related as opposites, since good and bad are opposites. But is it possible to have one word denote two opposite things or concepts?
Single words with contrary meanings appear in many languages.
In English, for example, we have “clip,” which may mean “to cue” or “to hold together” and “cleave,” which may mean “to separate” or “to ad-[p.112]here closely,” and even “fast,” which may mean “stationary” or “rapid,” This curious feature has been explained by noting that all concepts are based on comparisons; for example, if it were always day, not only would we have no concept for night, but we would have none for day either. This, of course, reminds us of Lehi’s teachings about opposites: “For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things. …Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility” (2 Ne. 2:11). Somehow, opposites are necessary for life and free agency. “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (v. 2:16).
The pairs of opposites Lehi mentions are all desirable/undesirable combinations. This might lead us to suppose that in every pair of opposites, one of the two is good and the other bad. But it is easy to think of oppositional pairs which do not fit easily into desirable/undesirable categories; for example, spontaneous/planned, male/female, reason/intuition, give/receive, object/subject, free/determined, community/individual, and dominate/submit. We usually recognize the need to achieve some kind of balance between the extremes of these pairs. Lehi’s words suggest that this cannot be a settling down at the midpoint, for he asserts that agency requires that we be drawn by one or the other. But Lehi is not simply saying that as agents we need to be presented with opposites to choose between; there is a deeper metaphysical meaning in his idea of the compound in one. Lehi’s insight is that there could be neither life nor existence if opposites were not connected. Life requires growth and “anything that grows has a ground plan and … out of this ground plan the parts arise, each part having its time of ascendancy, until all parts have arisen to form a functioning whole” (E. H. Erikson, Identity [New York, 1968], 92). Growth, life, agency, and opposites, then, seem to be inextricably related.
That there is an intimate connection between opposites is apparent when we realize that if two things were completely different, we would not think of them as opposites. Opposites are different values of the same thing. For example, “hot” and Heald” refer to temperature. The word temperature covers the whole range of values of the phenomena which “hot” and “cold” describe. This demonstrates that we could use a single word for two opposite meanings by using quantifiers or other contextual clues to indicate the precise meaning.
[p.113]With this in mind, I will again consider the question, “Is there bad pride and good pride, and are they opposites?” Several dictionaries agree that pride may be either inordinate, unreasonable self-esteem or reasonable, justified self-esteem.
The phenomenon that pride describes is the self and its evaluation of itself-self-esteem. Perhaps bad pride is too much self-esteem and good pride is the right amount.
However, there is a problem with this suggestion. The scales of pride and self-esteem in common usage do not seem to fit-that is, on the self-esteem scale “good” and IIdesirabien are on the high side, while on the pride scale “bad” and “undesirable” are on the high side. We think of self-esteem positively and seldom think that one might have too much self-esteem. In fact, having too little self-esteem is usually regarded as an undesirable condition. Perhaps “good pride” is simply synonymous with “self~esteem.!I But then, where does bad pride fit in? Is it something else entirely?
And what about humility as the opposite of bad pride? Certainly humility is not what we mean by good pride. Its Oxford English Dictionary definition closely aligns it with the concept of low self-esteem: Humility is “the quality of being humble or having a low opinion of oneself,” and “humble” means “having a low estimate of one’s importance, worthiness or merits.” This core definition is repugnant to most of us; it goes against our ideas about self-esteem. Humbling or humiliating oneself, or putting oneself down, is not regarded positively. It is clear that if pride and humility are opposite extremes of self-esteem, they also do not fit the self-esteem scale as it is generally accepted. Perhaps the virtue of humility needs to be defended. Is there something positive about it? I will return to this question later.
Now I will consider if what I have been calling good pride is the same thing as self-esteem. First it is necessary to be clear about what good pride is. It seems to be linked to excellence and achievement. Whenever we say “I am proud of x”—x being something we have made or accomplished—then pride is the emotion rising from the judgment that x was well done. It is the glow of pleasure that comes when I am able to apply some set of standards to my work and say to myself, “I did a good job.” It is a combination of pleasure in the excellence of the work itself and satisfaction that I accomplished it.
Good pride, however, is not always an emotion. It may be a disposition or characteristic of a person. For example, when we say of someone, “She takes pride in her work,” we mean that she has certain standards which she sets for herself and does whatever is required to achieve excellence in her work. When we say “He is a proud man” or “They are a proud people” in a [p.114]complimentary sense, we mean that they have certain achievements or traditions which, judged by certain objective standards, are of excellent quality and that they take pleasure in their past achievements and look forward to continuing that tradition of excellence. For our purposes, we can call this type of pride “self-approval.”
Now what is self-esteem? There is a large body of literature available on that subject. Here is a representative definition: “Self-esteem is a personal judgment of worthiness; it indicates an attitude of approval or disapproval toward the self; it indicates the extent to which the individual considers himself to be capable, significant, successful, and worthy” (S. Coppersmith, The Antecedents of Self-Esteem [San Francisco, 1967], 5). In this definition, the term “self.-esteem” refers to the continuum of values of worthiness of the self, using “high self .. esteem” and “low selresteem” as quantifiers. I suspect most people use the term this way, and they generally agree that high selfesteem is necessary to happiness and achievement.
How similar is this to self-approval as I have defined it? Self-approval is definitely based on accomplishment. We approve of ourselves for what we have accomplished or for the capacities or virtues which we have proven ourselves to possess. The definition of selresteem given above seems to agree. It says that our approval of ourselves depends on whether we consider ourselves to be “capable, significant, successful, and worthy.” But couldn’t we consider ourselves significant and worthy even if we felt unsuccessful and incapable and even if we disapproved of many things about ourselves? And if self-esteem is a precondition of achievement, then isn’t it something deeper and more basic than self-approval?
Most discussions of self-esteem fail to distinguish it from self-approval. That the two are distinct can be made clear by two considerations. The first concerns measuring self-esteem. The psychological concept of self-esteem arises from the observation that certain attitudes and behaviors generally go together, that a positive attitude toward one’s capabilities and worth correlates with independence, the ability to achieve goals and establish satisfying personal relationships, and a generally cheerful attitude towards life. To explain this correlation, psychologists postulate the concept of self-esteem. Being scientists, they naturally want to measure it. But certainly self-esteem is subjective—it cannot be measured directly, so psychologists have to content themselves with measuring its objective manifestations, namely the statements subjects make about themselves and their observable behavior or accomplishments. For this reason self-esteem is often identified with the attitudes and feelings that a subject expresses. But some people whose [p.115]achievements and competence would generally be regarded as superior nevertheless disparage themselves and their achievements, while others boast of their capacities but seem to have done nothing to prove them. Such apparent discrepancies between theory and observation do not cause psychologists to abandon the hypothesis that high self-esteem leads to achievement and positive attitudes and satisfying relationships. Instead they fall back on the immeasurability of self-esteem. Since the subjectivity of self-esteem is at least partially unconscious, and we do not even have direct access to our own self-esteem, they can always assert that a person’s selresteem is whatever the theory and his attitudes and behavior show it to be. The immeasurability of self-esteem thus means that the theory of self-esteem is untestable, that it is in reality a postulate rather than a theory, and that the concept of self-esteem must be something more basic than the concept of self-approval.
The second consideration that distinguishes self-esteem from self-approval concerns methods for increasing self-esteem. Since the manifestations of self-esteem are generally held to be intrinsically good, most of us accept the idea that everyone needs high self-esteem and that it is worthwhile to help those who have low self-esteem to increase it. The attempt to raise self-esteem begins from either the behavioral or the attitudinal half of the self-esteem complex. We sometimes try to increase a person’s selfesteem by telling him that if he will just believe in himself, he will be able to accomplish all he desires. On the other hand, a person may be urged to set goals and then to achieve them in order to feel better about herself. Neither of these methods succeeds in increasing self-esteem. They both confuse self-approval, which is based on achievement, with self-esteem, which is not. The initial insight that self-esteem is the cause of certain attitudes and behaviors is lost, and self-esteem becomes identified with its measurable manifestations.
It may be retorted that acquiring self-esteem is accomplished step by step; a simple desire for self-esteem, a willingness to take the risk, is enough. A small amount of belief in oneself can lead to achievement; achievement leads to more faith, which leads to more and greater successes. But the desire or faith has to come from outside the attitude-behavior complex. The decision to strive for improvement is made by the deeper self, which must first consider itself worthy of becoming a better self.
The basic difference between self-esteem and self-approval is that the first is unconditional, while the second is conditional. Unconditional love is the elusive good we look for in our search for self-esteem. It cannot be identified with behaviors or attitudes that we attempt to measure or acquire. [p.116] I have been considering the relationship of good pride and bad pride to the concept of self-esteem. I have identified good pride with self-approval and concluded that it is not the same as self-esteem. I also asserted that the idea of bad pride as too much self-esteem is not correct, because the idea of too much self-esteem doesn’t make sense. But caring too much for the self in relationship to others does make sense; in fact, that is what we mean by selfishness. What is the connection between pride and selfishness?
Selfishness, like pride, is not universally condemned. Although it is generally considered a vice, it has been defended as a virtue. This contradiction is related to the ambivalence we feel about the nature of pride. The confusion in both cases arises from our uncertainties about the self. The concepts of pride and selfishness are both about the self, but pride is the broader concept; selfishness is one manifestation of pride. Pride may manifest itself as selfishness, but it may also be unselfish.
An important insight for understanding the sin of pride can be gained by examining what is sometimes called the problem of selfishness or altruism. A cynic would say that all actions are fundamentally selfish. Philosophically, this view is called psychological egoism. This theory of human motivation states that people always do what they want to do, that they always act to promote their own interests. Understanding the reasoning be~ hind this view helps us avoid the confusion that makes it difficult to distinguish between good pride and bad pride. Imagine a conversation between a freshman and a sophomore.
Sophomore: Everyone is selfish.
Freshman: I don’t think so. My brother acted unselfishly at his birthday party. He had the first choice and he chose the smallest piece of cake.
Sophomore: He probably doesn’t like cake.
Freshman: Yes, he does.
Sophomore: Then he likes praise better than cake. He expected to be praised for being unselfish.
Freshman: Mothers are unselfish. They always take the smallest piece of cake.
Sophomore: I don’t think they always take the smallest piece, and even when they do, they do it because they want to.
Freshman: But no one forces them to. That’s why they’re unselfish.
Sophomore: They know that cake isn’t good for them.
[p.117]Freshman: Then it would be in their best interests not to take any at all.
Sophomore: The real reason they take the smallest piece is that they like peace better than cake. They don’t want to hear anyone else complain about having the smallest piece.
Freshman: What about the saint who spends years serving in a leper colony? What’s in it for him?
Sophomore: Probably praise or fame.
Freshman: What ifhe serves for years and doesn’t get any? What keeps him going?
Sophomore: He thinks that God will reward him in the next life.
Freshman: What if he’s not a saint but a humanitarian who doesn’t believe in God but wants to help suffering humanity?
Sophomore: He does it so that he can approve of himself for doing his duty.
Freshman: What about the person who donates a large sum of money to charity anonymously?
Sophomore: He does it because of the sense of personal satisfaction he derives from doing so. It gives him a warm glow to think of the good he’s doing.
There are good arguments against psychological egoism, but, of course, they are beyond the scope of this essay. There is only one point I want to make here: The psychological egoist can go on claiming that all actions are selfish even though he finds it necessary to give up any claim that all actions are motivated by one specific desire, such as the desire for physical gratification, fame, or power. The phenomenon of egocentricity enables him to do this.
The egocentric predicament states that it is impossible for me to directly apprehend another’s inner realiry. A corollary is that I can only act upon my own motives; whatever the nature of these motives are, they must be mine. (This is, of course, free agency.) We can thus tell the cynic that he is defining egocentriciry rather than selfishness. All people must be selfish in the sense that their wants and desires are their own and they must act upon their own motives, but there is a difference between the person who wants to do good to others and the one who does not, between the person who is interested in promoting the welfare of others and someone who is in-different or hostile to others’ good. This difference is what is meant when we characterize one person as unselfish and another as selfish. The sin of pride is inextricably related to being a self, but pride is not sinful because it is a sin of self any more than the essence of selfishness is egocentricity. So far I have argued that the idea of too much self-esteem is not useful in understanding what pride is. I will now turn to the other meaning of inordinate—unlawful or going beyond what is justified or reasonable. Perhaps ptide is the unreasonable or false estimation of the self.
How should the self be esteemed? Value is a relative, not absolute, concept; we evaluate one thing in relation to another. If pride is the false estimation of the self, what is the self falsely related to? Another analysis of opposites might help here. What is the opposite of the self? Two possibilities come to mind: the world and other selves. The relativity of evaluation is further complicated by the fact that it is the self that evaluates. All valuing, then, depends on the existence of selves. To understand how the self values itself in relation to the world and others, we need to consider further the nature of selfhood.
Self-consciousness, the ability to know myself as an object to my subject, that is, to think about myself as a self, is held to be an essential condition of selfhood. But self-consciousness is based on, and arises from, consciousness of that which is not myself.
Studies of the development of the human ego help us understand the nature of the self. According to certain studies in child development, the infant begins life in a state of oneness with his mother (or primary caretaker) and the world. Sometime during the first three years of life a child is born as a psychological being possessing selfhood and the consciousness of a separate identity (L. J. Kaplan, Oneness and Separateness [New York, 1978], 15). Consciousness must always have an object. The first objects of consciousness are bodily sensations which the infant experiences in a holistic way with no concept of inner and outer, me and not me. As she matures, the baby learns to distinguish between herself and the world and herself and other human beings. Self-identity develops in contrast to the identification of the external world. A baby develops a knowledge of physical reality as she acts upon it. She learns that her body is in the world but that it is different from other objects because it is imbued with feeling and is under her mental control. She learns that she can manipulate and change external reality. But it is in interaction with his mother and other human beings that the child learns what it means to be a self. A selfis a subject in that it desires, thinks, feels, and acts with purpose. In responding to her baby’s cries, smiles, goos, and movements, a mother shows that she recognizes her baby as a subject, as a thinking, feeling being with desires, needs, and agency.
This recognition from the mother (and other people) is vital to the development of the child’s individuality, but it is meaningful only because it comes from another who is also a subject. The child learns that the mother, though she responds to him, cannot be controlled by him. Finding another will in opposition to his own, realizing that his mother does not always want what he wants, is an essential part of the process in which he learns to differentiate himself from others.
The other is present to me in, and through, his body. I know he is there because of his body and I know he is separate from me because of the separateness of our bodies. It is through the body that the self is identified, seen, and understood to be separate, and it is through the mind and spirit that the self is transcended and enlarged. To transcend myself I must observe and interact with the world outside myself, but to know the world I must create and re-create it in my own mind. To know an object is somehow to bring it within, to comprehend it. (Both meanings of “comprehend” apply.) To know an object is to be able to form a mental image of it when it is not present and then to be able to negate that image, to have memories of one’s in .. teractions with it, and to be able to imagine or project future or possible interactions with it, as well as to have an idea of the kind of thing it is. The self is also transcended in its interactions with other selves. By sharing others’ knowledge, emotions, and experience, we somehow make them our own. Thus in transcending myself, I enlarge myself.
But even in its transcendence the self remains particular. My mental image of a tree is not the tree itself. My experience of your experience is not the same as your experience. Neither is your experience the same for you after you share it with me and receive my view of it. Thus, in interacting with the world and other selves, the self builds its self-concept, its world view, and its concept of others. Every self contains the world or, rather, a view of the world. Part of being a self is having a world view. The subject must create or construct the world for itself—not, of course, without input from physical reality and others—but it cannot apprehend the thing in itself or experience directly the thoughts of others.
This is, of course, the philosophical concept of egocentricity. The psychological notion of egocentrism is somewhat different. It has to do with the immature cognitive abilities of children who cannot yet construct the world as the mature adult does. The egocentrism of the child includes being unable to distinguish between transient and abiding aspects of reality (mother [p.120]no longer exists when she leaves the room), between subjective and objective aspects of reality (my stomachache is the world), and between universal and particular aspects of reality (every man is daddy) (D. Elkind, The Child’s Reality [Hilldale, N], 1978], 85, 86). Thus, from the psychological point of view, egocentrism is overcome by developing a world view that fits reality. Egocentricity, however, seems to be a condition of selfhood.
Only in discovering its boundaries, in recognizing an other who is not itself, can the self become self-conscious. Self-consciousness is pre-reflective before becoming reflective. Through our senses we are aware of the world and the objects in it. A child absorbed in playing with his blocks is not thinking about himself; he is thinking about his blocks. He may think of something he wants to build, but as he works to create it, his mind is absorbed in executing his design, not in reflecting on his desire. If his building collapses, his anger will be directed toward his blocks, not himself. Although consciousness is aware of itself, its object is usually something outside itself—a manual task, a train of. thought, another person.
Self-consciousness originates in the discovery that I am an object of consciousness to another person. In recognizing the subjectivity of the other, I become an object, an other, to myself. My individuality develops and grows in and through my relationships with other selves. Self-consciousness, then, depends on recognizing the consciousness of other selves. We are now ready to understand the relarionship between pride and self-esteem. If pride is a false estimation of the self, then self-esteem is the true estimation of the self; pride is the vice and self-esteem its corresponding virtue. Usually humility is considered to be the opposite of pride. Is humility the same as self-esteem? Generally humility means thinking lowly of oneself. Certainly this is not the same as what I have defined as self-esteem. In my analysis of the sin of pride, I have found it necessary to go beyond the ordinary meaning of “pride.” Perhaps the definition of humility also needs to be rethought. However, I believe that “humility” does have a recognized meaning which is distinct from the pride/self-esteem oppositional pair. Humility is a virtue possessed by a person with self-esteem. It can be thought of in contrast to good pride, which I called self-approval. A humble person is willing to examine himself and admit his faults. She is teachable because she recognizes her lack of knowledge. He acknowledges and rejoices in the achievements and talents of others. A humble person is able to do all this because her self-esteem does not depend on her superiority.
Pride and self-esteem, however, should not be thought of as negative and posirive attributes of the self. Self-esteem is the essence of the self—the [p.121]selfs idea of what a self is, which includes its estimation of the value of a self. We have seen that self;consciousness arises in the interrelationship of selves. This means that my estimation of my own value relates to my estimation of the value of others. My self-concept, my world view, and my view of others are interrelated. This is another way of saying that self-esteem is unconditional. It is not based on my being myself, but on my being a self. I distinguished self-esteem from self-approval by showing that self-esteem is unconditional while self-approval is conditional. It should now be clear that self-esteem is universal while self-approval is particular. My selfesteem is based on the value I place on every human being. It reflects my concept of what a self is and what it can become, how it relates to other selves and how it should relate to other selves, and what the world is and what the self can accomplish in it. My self-approval is directed toward myself, the qualities that I have developed and the achievements I have made. Self-esteem emphasizes potentialities while self-approval emphasizes actualities. Because self-esteem is universal, if I have self-esteem I place the same value upon myself as I place on others.
It is now necessary to amend the definition of pride. If my self-esteem is based on my being a self, then a person with true self-esteem regards others as being equal in value to herself because they are also selves. The false selfesteem of pride considers itself to be the self, that is, a proud person believes only in his own subjectivity. Pride, then, is the false estimation of the self in relationship to others. Most people will assent to the proposition that all selves are of equal value. This does not mean that few people are proud, but that pride goes deeper than propositional knowledge; it goes as deep as my love for myself.
In pride my self-love is conditional, while in self-esteem it is not. Of course, there is a sense in which everyone loves herself unconditionally. I love myself, not because of all the fine attributes I possess, my great achievements, or my many good deeds, but simply because I am myself. But this, then, is the condition on which my love for myself is based—that I am myself. Behind pride is the conviction that I am the highest good because I am I. As a proposition, this is simply too ridiculous to be believed, so pride must disguise itself in some universal proposition or interest. We can see how this happens by examining the position of the personal ethical egoist. The egoist has one moral principle: “I should promote my own interest.” To justify this ethic he must either claim that he is more important than anyone else, or he must revert to a universal ethical egoism and say something such as, “The greatest good for the greatest number will be achieved if everyone looks out [p.122]for his own interests.” Few, I think, would maintain the first. In other words, when the personal ethical egoist reflects on his code he must universalize it. Similarly, the belief behind pride is pre-reflective.
Like self esteem, pride encompasses all of the self, unconsciousness as well as consciousness. Since pride is conditional self-love, a proud person is very concerned with proving his superiority. Although his self-love is fundamentally based on his being himself, his pride demands that he establish his worthiness in more objective ways. Understanding that pride is conditional self-love illuminates a phenomenon which is problematic for the concept of self-esteem, as it is generally held. Some people who have made significant achievements and possess many superior qualities, nevertheless do not seem to love themselves. This is because the unconditional love of self-esteem cannot be earned by achievement. Low achievers who obviously have low self-esteem are also in a state of pride since their love is conditional. Self-esteem, then, is not necessarily correlated with achievement or even with positive judgments about the individual’s capabilities.
There is a reason why we are so confused about whether pride is good or bad. The insidious nature of pride is that it attacks us at our good points and corrupts them. Because in pride our self-worth is based on being superior to others, pride leads us to use our strengths to establish this superiority. To insinuate itself into our lives, to become respectable, pride must disguise itself. Some of the disguises that pride can assume are self-esteem; competition; pride in excellence or self-approval; self-sufficiency, independence, or self-reliance; and free agency.
Pride has made itself respectable today by calling itself self-esteem, by obliterating the distinction between self-esteem and self-approval. Since self-esteem is regarded as a psychological necessity for happy, achieving human beings, our savants have set about telling us how to acquire it. Either we are told that we should think well of ourselves and that we can do this merely by trying, or we are told to set goals for ourselves, that when we accomplish them we will feel good about ourselves.
But since conditional self-esteem is pride, when we urge people to acquire self-esteem through positive thinking or achievement, we are inculcating pride. Those who seek self-esteem through achievement fluctuate between arrogance and despair—arrogance if they reach their goals, despair if they do not; despair, when upon reaching their goals they discover that their goals were shallow or insignificant or that they still do not feel good about themselves, arrogance when they see all those who have not achieved what they have. Arrogance and despair are the two sides of the [p.123]pride that bases its self-esteem on conditions—arrogance when the self succeeds in persuading itself that it is important because of its special talents and accomplishments, and despair when too much concern with truth dispels the illusion.
We sometimes try to encourage self esteem by teaching that everyone is unique or special. But then being unique is not unique so why is it special to be special? This encourages pride because it assumes that we are only worth something if we are unique in some way when the truth is that it is our sameness, our all being human beings, that makes us intrinsically valuable. The idea of universal uniqueness feeds pride because it feeds our desire to be indispensable. We are all indispensable in two ways: we are indispensable to ourselves; and, being eternal, we cannot be dispensed of. However, we are not indispensable to anyone else in the sense that they cannot get along without us. Thus my desire to be indispensable to others is the desire to swallow up their selfhood in my own, in other words, pride.
Pride is essentially competitive; it pits one ego against another. In our highly competitive culture, competition, if not regarded as an unmitigated good, is generally considered to foster excellence. Thus pride becomes respectable by calling itself ambition, success, and competition. The false notion behind this kind of pride is that the self cannot be happy unless it is better than someone else. The competitive imperative of pride is “I must win because I am I.” When I think about it, I realize that this is the motivation behind winning. I want to win because I am I, not because I am the best. I try to make myself the best because I want to win. Watching and listening to the disputes of my children, I have been struck by the realization that the younger they are the sooner they forget what the argument is about. The controversy deteriorates into a competition to determine who will win. Pride takes us away from the complexities of issues and reduces all controversies to the competitive imperative.
In my discussion of pride as self-approval, I distinguished two elements in the emotion of pride: the pleasure in the thing that I am proud of and the pleasure in the fact that I did it. As long as I am thinking of the thing created or the act accomplished, I am not glorying in myself, but when the second element predominates, I am being seduced by pride. After God created the earth, he saw that it was good, not that he was good.
Self-sufficiency is an established Mormon virtue. However, in the early days of Mormonism economic self-sufficiency was defined as the self-sufficiency of the entire Mormon community, not the self-sufficiency of the individual family or the individual person. Pride easily disguises itself as [p.124]self-sufficiency, independence, and self-reliance. If the absolute meaning of these concepts is meant, these are obviously extreme examples of pride; a self that is sufficient to itself is a self that is isolated from God, others, and the world. This is madness, if not an impossibility. No one is independent of everything. In a given context, the independence of the self is only relative. As a virtue, self-reliance or self-sufficiency simply means that one does for himself what he ought to and does not ask others to take care of him in ways that he can take care of himself. The temptation here is to exaggerate our own contribution and to forget what we owe others or to retreat into our private lives and ignore, as much as we can, the difficulties and obligations of community. If we are all self-sufficient, independent, and self-reliant in some ways, we are all beggars, dependent, and in need of succor in other ways.
Pride can also disguise itself as free agency. It takes the virtue of accepting responsibility for one’s own actions, feelings, and choices and then corrupts it. A popular phrase now is, “Taking control of my life.” This can be good if it means examining my life to see if I am really doing what I want to do and not simply drifting, if it means deciding what my aspirations are and taking steps to achieve them. But if it means refusing to let others make demands on me, or asserting myself just because I believe I have the right to do so, or refusing to help or sympathize with others on the grounds that they chose their own difficulties, then it is pride.
Since pride disguises itself as virtue, how can we recognize it? One thing is certain: if we don’t look for it, we won’t find it. Sometimes pride is easy to see in others, but until I can see it in myself I have not really understood it. As C. S. Lewis said, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed” (Mere Christianity [New York, 1943], 99).
One sign of pride, then, is the inability to recognize it. It is important to realize that the deception of pride is self-deception. As soon as we begin to see pride’s falseness we have taken the first step in overcoming it. For this reason pride cannot abide criticism. Criticism, of course, means analysis and evaluation, not simply fault-finding. This does not necessarily mean that the proud person wants praise from others; the vain man does, but if I am really proud, I might disdain the good opinion of others, caring only for my own. Nor is wanting the good opinion of others always necessarily a sign of vanity. I may want to please others because I care for them and value their friendship.
Another sign of pride is its concern with appearance. While this may be simple vanity, it may also be the outward sign of a deeper pride. Status [p.125]symbols are important to pride because they are the proofs of superiority. Status symbols may be any number of things: fine apparel, success in the world, or a certain kind of education, but they are always measurable in some way. They are the conditions that a certain way of life demands for its self-esteem.
We can look for pride in our relationships with others. The proud person dominates and manipulates others; she treats them not as selves of equal value with herself, but as objects or means to her own ends. A person who allows herself to be dominated and manipulated by others is also in a state of pride, the pride of low self-esteem.
Once we have recognized pride, how can we overcome it? Since pride is the false estimation of the importance of oneself in relation to others, truth is an antidote to pride. Only truth can dispel the deception that is at the heart of pride. Because the deception of pride is primarily self-deception, to cure our pride we must examine ourselves. But if our self-esteem is actually pride, this venture will only lead to arrogance or despair. How can the self give up the lies which enable it to maintain its selfhood? Another antidote to pride is love, the love which opposes the enmity which is the essence of pride. If! can love my neighbor as myself, then certainly I have overcome pride. But if my self-love is pride, the illusion of my own preeminence, then I cannot offer it to anyone else; to do so would destroy my selfhood.
We are sometimes told that the key to love is service, that by serving others we will come to love them. Might not service, indeed, be the antidote to selfish pride? But if I pursue service as a duty for my own self-improvement, am I not using it to build my pride? If we simply try to use truth, love, and service as the means to self-improvement, to rid ourselves of the defect of pride, then pride has corrupted our enterprise and it will fail.
Since pride and self-esteem are not attributes of the self but fundamental modes of being, changing from pride to self-esteem requires a transformation that cannot be effected from the inside but must be initiated from the outside. The unconditional love of self-esteem is a gift whose ultimate source is God. To receive the truth and love which can transform our pride into self-esteem and make it possible for us to serve others in love, we must tum to the source of truth and love, the one who is the supreme exemplar of service, Jesus Christ. And we must come in humility. Humility, in the scriptures, almost always refers to the attitude of a person who views himself in relation to God, experiencing his own lack.
Pride does not recognize its need for God; it is a false estimation of the [p.126]self because it does not see its dependence on God. Among others, we are equal in being selves, though our particularity makes us different, and our obligation to others is to esteem them as ourselves. God is on a different level. “I am the Lord thy God; I am more intelligent than they all” (Abr. 3:9). This means, not that God is the most intelligent of all intelligent beings, but that his intelligence exceeds that of all others together. The people of King Benjamin were awakened to a sense of their nothingness and their worthless and fallen state by being taught about the go.odness of God (Mosiah 4:5). After seeing God, Moses said, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1: 10). Recognizing our own nothingness in relation to God leads to self-abasement. But if self-abasement is the right relationship to God, how does this lead to self-esteem?
I fear that we Mormons are uncomfortable with the idea of self-abasement. We often use the doctrine that God is literally the father of our spirits to encourage self-esteem. We dwell so much on our potential godhood that we sometimes forget the difference between potentiality and actuality. We have aspired to be God so long that it is hard to remember how wide the gap is between us and him. But if we cannot understand our own nothingness in relation to God, then we cannot worship him. And if we are too proud to worship him, we are in grave danger of being able to worship nothing but ourselves.
The doctrine that we are the spirit children of God can encourage self-esteem if it is interpreted to mean that we are equally valuable to God, emphasizing that we are all the same kind of being. However, it can also encourage pride when the idea that we are valuable because we are like God is emphasized. This interpretation encourages us to value ourselves because of our good qualities, which results in conditional self-esteem, which is pride.
I believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ offers the foundation on which self-esteem can be built. In the person of Jesus Christ God came into the world to redeem each human being. In offering his life for each of us, he made himself equal to each of us. This is the true foundation of our equality, and the unconditional love of Jesus in his atonement can take us from the self-abasement that arises from our perception of our nothingness in relationship to God to the joy of his love.
The prophet Alma experienced both the self-abasement that resulted from his recognition of his unworthiness before God and the joy that came from his acceptance of the mercy of Jesus Christ.
[p.127]But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tor~ mented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled againsr my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been rny iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
And now, for three days and three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: 0 Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:12-20)
“Come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” Jesus says, offering us the love whose only condition is that we accept it, “and I will heal you.” After the pain of the broken heart comes the joy of healing.
As a mother’s love gives her baby the sense of its own worth and her faith in him and his ability to grow draws him into the world, so we can grow when our self-esteem is based on God’s love for us. When we know that God loves us in our sins and that we can receive forgiveness for our sins, we can have the courage to open ourselves to self-criticism. When we can esteem ourselves just because we are beings endowed by God with the potential to grow, we can esteem others and hope for their growth. When we can serve others with the love that we have received from God, when we no longer have to cling to the conditions which we have used to prove our worth because we are secure in God’s love, the paradox of sacrifice can take [p.128]place as Jesus promised. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:24). It is the nature of human beings to be self-transcendent. Pride does not recognize this and thinks it can keep its selfhood private. But the self grows by reaching out to the world and others and, with truth, bringing reality within, possessing it, not as an exclusive but a shared possession. “He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever” (D&C 88:41). That is the kind of being God is, and he wants us to be like him. But we cannot achieve godhood by launching ourselves upon a program of self-improvement in which we depend on our inner resources. We must submit ourselves to him.
It should be apparent that I have developed a concept of pride that agrees with the traditional Christian theologians in considering pride as the basic sin, the sin of the spirit which is in rebellion against God and at enmity with all others (R. Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man [New York, 1941], 186-203). A careful study of Book of Mormon teachings on pride reveals that it is close to traditional Christianity in its estimation of the nature of pride. In fact, Book of Mormon writers equate pride with a state of sin. The phrase “pride of their hearts” is used often to describe the state of those who have deliberately rejected God. In designating the wicked the Book of Mormon often simply calls them “those who are proud and do wickedly,” thus setting forth the inward and outward aspects of sin. Pride is rarely listed as one sin among others but is usually considered to be the source of other sins. In the Book of Mormon the proud person sins against others as well as God. He does not esteem his neighbor as himself; instead he supposes he is better than others. This pride leads to envy, strife, persecutions, and a struggle for power and gain that finally leads to the destruction of an entire civilization.
But if pride is rebellion against God, why should it be a danger to church members who believe in God? Rebellion is from the inside and it never begins as open rebellion. In the Book of Mormon pride is never mentioned as a sin of the Lamanites or unbelievers. It is always the once righteous Nephites who succumb to pride, and Moroni warns us that we have the same problem. He is speaking to us as members of the true church of Christ when he says:
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their [p.129]hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts (Moro. 8-36).
We have seen that pride is at the root of our relationship with God and others, and that more than right-mindedness and good intentions are required to root it out. Because pride wants to think well of itself, it poses the greatest temptation for those who aspire to righteousness and its subtlest disguise is that of righteousness.
A person who glories in his or her own righteousness becomes selfrighteous. Pride disguised as righteousness is pride at its most spiritual and most sinful. Self-righteousness leads to the persecution of others. First, the self-righteous person makes up her own rules. Of course, she does not think of them as her own rules; she bases them on the commandments, but they reflect her understanding of the commandments—they are her rules for keeping the Sabbath Day holy or her measurable objectives for increasing spirituality. After making up his own rules, a self-righteous person judges others by them and condemns them because they do not conform to his standards of righteousness. He may persecute them by imposing his standards on them, causing them to acknowledge his superiority if he persuades them he is right and, perhaps, to despair of their own righteousness. If he is in a position of power, he may persecute them by trying to force them to accept or obey his standards or by denying them positions of responsibility and respect. And for all his persecutions he claims divine sanction.
I can never know God as long as I am self-righteous. If I imagine that my limited and relative moral standards are the same as God’s, if I imagine that my righteousness is the same as God’s, if I imagine that because I have pleased God in one respect that I have his total approval, then I imagine that there is very little difference between myself and God.
Stripping myself of pride is, I suppose, at least a lifetime effort. No sooner have I divested myself of the fine apparel that pride offers me than I discover that I have been deceived into accepting another of its disguises. None of the formulas or definitions or insights into the nature of pride and how it can be detected which I have offered here is absolutely guaranteed to reveal pride. Recognizing pride requires spiritual insight, and overcoming it requires outside help.