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Balancing Pride with Humility

by Marianne Navada

In a complex world, we continuously receive conflicting messages. We encourage body positivity, yet praise people when they lose weight. We build up pride, but revere humility. So I wonder, is it possible to be proud and stay humble at the same time? And how exactly does pride and humility affect us?

Research on humility and pride shows that there is an intersection between the two. The right amount of pride and humility, at the opportune time, can lead to a better self and society. 

What is Humility?

Psychologists distinguish between two types: general and intellectual humility.

General Humility

A person with general humility has an “accurate view” of who they are. They don’t show self-importance, so they don’t think or talk about themselves excessively.

Intellectual Humility

Someone with high intellectual humility seeks feedback, even if they know it’s critical. The person admits when they don’t know something, and acknowledges when someone has more knowledge than them. Research on humility focuses on intellectual humility.

On an individual level, people with higher intellectual humility have higher cognitive abilities. They are better learners, score higher in exams, and are effective leaders. A society with high intellectual humility leads to more tolerance. We tend to listen to people we might not agree with. We understand that everyone is fallible, including us. 

Being humble doesn’t mean you lack self-esteem. In fact, it takes confidence to admit when you’re confused, unsure, or wrong.

Pride

Pride: a self-conscious emotion that occurs when a goal has been attained and one’s achievement has been recognized and approved by others. It differs from joy and happiness in that these emotions do not require the approval of others to be experienced.

American Psychological Association

Pride consists of two components: achievement and social recognition. Pride relies on the people around us or a group we belong to. We are usually proud of things and accomplishments that we believe society approves of. 

Being humble doesn’t mean you lack self-esteem. In fact, it takes confidence to admit when you’re confused, unsure, or wrong.

Benefits of Pride

Controlled psychological research shows that pride makes us work harder and fosters dedication. The problem occurs when we give ourselves undue credit. We think we possess a certain level of capability, which we actually don’t have. Pride then transforms to hubris

Another drawback occurs when “our pride is greater than the actual social value of our accomplishments”. In a room full of professional tennis players, thinking you’re at their level because you won the community club championship, or your spouse tells you you’re the best tennis player, doesn’t quite add up.

Psychologists warn that reliance on external recognition can make pride work against you.

The key is to focus on achieving and accomplishing certain goals or qualities, rather than trying to achieve the recognition itself.

Jessica Tracy PhD | Professor at the University of British Columbia | Author of Pride: The Secret of Success | Quote from BBC

In short, honest self-reflection allows pride and humility to benefit you. Understand your weaknesses, know whose criticism and recognition matters to you, and be honest when you give praise–you don’t want pride to turn into hubris for someone else.   

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