Pride is an
unhelpful word because it is basically one name for two distinct concepts.
One concept is
unabashedly positive; it's the pleasure a person feels when they experience a
sense of self-satisfaction. Suppose you learn how to play a particularly
challenging piece of music, or you run faster than you expected during a race.
You'd feel pride. I don't know anyone who would argue that this kind of pride
is a negative thing. This kind of pride is so positive that you can even feel
it when thinking about other people. You can feel proud of your child or your
spouse. You can feel proud of your friends or your countrymen. A simple
pleasure, a simple self-satisfaction, felt for being connected to someone who
accomplished something. Pride!
The other concept
called "pride" is negative. That's what you feel when you're so
afraid of losing face that you refuse to acknowledge your own shortcomings.
Suppose you're having an argument with your spouse, and it turns out that
you're wrong. Some people won't apologize. Some people won't admit to any
wrongdoing. Instead, they'll huff and puff and harrumph and pretend as though,
even if they were wrong, it was someone else's fault somehow. It's a deflection
of negative feelings, and a protection against narcissistic injury. This
negative version of pride is also a sense of being so self-satisfied that one
can't see one's own weaknesses, as when a sports team with a winning streak
starts to feel so confident that they underestimate the ability of the underdog
team who goes on to beat them in the end.
As far as I can
tell, the only thing these two concepts have in common is that they involve
positive self-appraisal. Other than that minute point, they are completely
different feelings, totally different emotions, and should have entirely
I first became aware
of the distinction when I was a teenager in religiously conservative Utah.
There, the mormon church teaches emphatically that all forms of pride are
negative. I think the basic idea is that the more highly you think of yourself,
the less time you spend thinking about how sinful you are, and how inferior to
But what clued me in
to the distinction between negative and positive pride was the fact that so
many religious people I knew used the word "prideful" to describe
people who were proud. That is, these
folks didn't use the word proud at all.
It was always "prideful."
When I look these
two words up in the dictionary, the word "proud" gives me both a
negative and a positive definition, reflecting the distinct concepts described
above; the word "prideful," meanwhile, only gives me a description of
the negative version.
Perhaps, in some
years, "prideful" and "proud" will be the two names for the
distinct concepts I've just described. At least they will be distinguished in
adjectives. I guess that would result in a world in which "pride" is the
positive name and "pridefulness" is the negative name, although that
distinction doesn't presently exist today.