Lately Richard and I have noticed a common theme in news accounts of people receiving awards or accolades: namely, the tendency of award recipients to express how "humbled" they are by the award or recognition they've received.
Both of us have wondered, "Why don't they just say they're proud? That's what they really mean, isn't it?"
If I'm a teacher, let's say, and I receive an award for teaching excellence, it would seem to make perfect sense for me to feel proud of myself. After all, I've received recognition that not everyone gets. I've been singled out as special, perhaps even superior. Pride appears to be an appropriate response.
But ... no one wants to appear proud. After all, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, isn't it?
Googling "define proud" leads to two definitions:
1. feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one's own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated.
2. having or showing a high or excessively high opinion of oneself or one's importance.
The first of the two doesn't sound so bad -- most of us wouldn't hesitate to say "I'm so pleased" when we receive acclaim -- but nobody wants to be accused of the second. So I might conclude that I'd better not say "Thank you for this teaching award! I feel so proud!" and risk being seen as having "an excessively high opinion" of myself. After all, maybe some of my peers don't think I deserved the award, so if they hear me expressing pride at having won it, they'll think that I see myself as better than I truly am.
The Bible has a comment on that very problem, here in Galatians 6:3-4 (a passage I alluded to in a different context for a previous blog post):
If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else. (New International Version)
Heaven forbid that we should deceive ourselves by "thinking we're something when we're not," right? We watch a celebrity like Kanye West strutting onstage at awards ceremonies to pontificate about who he thinks the truly deserving are, and we cringe at his oversized ego; we don't want to be like that, do we?
(At right, see Kanye telling award recipient Taylor Swift why Beyonce should in fact have won Swift's prize. And observe Swift's totally bewildered expression.)
Notice, though, what the Galatians passage says in the sentences immediately following: we should "test our own actions" and then we can "take pride in ourselves alone, without comparing ourselves to someone else."
How interesting: pride is seen as something that's perfectly acceptable, even good, to feel, but in the proper context -- and that context has nothing to do with comparing ourselves to others. Yet all the examples Richard and I noticed had to do with people receiving awards, which are inherently a form of comparison: there's no significance in a Teaching Award or a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer if everyone gets it. It's only meaningful if one person receives it and is therefore held up as better than the other nominees (and way better than the masses who weren't even nominated).
Where, then, does this leave those people who are "humbled" by the awards they've received? After pondering it for a while, I actually think that their response is perfect. In most cases, I assume, they're reluctant to express pride in a situation where they're being compared with other people. They realize there are many other deserving recipients; they're grateful for, yet a little surprised by, the honour; and -- to their credit -- they want to keep a level head and not become Kanye-ized.
I still wonder about the Galatians reference to "taking pride in ourselves alone, without comparing," though. I wonder what that pure type of pride would look like in real life.
Maybe it's a childlike trait: we've all seen kids eager to show off their dancing or the picture they drew or the race they ran, and they're bursting with a sense of accomplishment that has nothing to do with superiority/inferiority or better/worse. Is it only in later life that the comparison aspect creeps in, so that instead of "testing our own actions" (keeping our eyes on our own exam paper, as our teacher tells us to do) we focus on how others are doing? Does that explain why we can end up either showing off in order to feel good about ourselves, or resenting others' achievements because they make us feel bad about ourselves?
I'm not sure -- and I'd certainly welcome your thoughts in the comment section below, because there may be more to this humility/pride question, and I'd love to know what others think. For now, I think the best approach is threefold:
- Try to view my own "achievements, qualities, and possessions" as gifts and enjoy them with gratitude and pleasure.
- Try to avoid comparing myself with others, regardless of whether the comparison puts me at an advantage or a disadvantage.
- In the face of our celebrity-obsessed society, try to maintain what the Google dictionary -- in its definition of "humble" -- calls "a modest sense of my own importance."
***************************************************(By the way, you may be interested to know that this is my blog's 500th post! I'm not sure whether to be humble or proud about that. I guess you can call me prumble.)