I wanted to start this article with a thought-provoking quote about the relationship between pride and humility—I couldn’t find one. Most of the words of wisdom I found undervalued pride and overvalued humility. That’s not what I’m going for.
Instead, I find myself trying to connect these profoundly nuanced concepts without favoring one over the other, because I believe pride and humility are both important. The challenge is toeing the incredibly fine line between too much and too little of either… or both.
Conversations about pride and humility are often riddled with landmines. People have strong opinions about too much pride or too little humility. Conventional wisdom says pride is bad and humility is good, but is that really true?
An abundance of pride coupled with a lack of humility bears narcissistic fruit. People with egotistical qualities find little value in the thoughts and opinions of others, believing their own ideas and actions are superior to those around them.
At the same time, having too little pride and excess humility erodes self-esteem and self-worth. This toxic combination causes people to lose themselves in their humility to satisfy their desire to be meek. They sacrifice their wants, and sometimes even their needs, all in the name of prioritizing humility at all costs.
Author Vanna Bonta once said, "Humility is the ability to give up your pride and still retain your dignity." That sounds like a good approach to humility, but is it possible?
So many factors pull us to one side or another, leaving little room for anything but extremes. These powerful forces dictate our attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs about pride and humility.
Gender norms and expectations form some of the most profound dividing lines between pride and humility. Psychologists and sociologists have noted the differences between society’s expected levels of pride and humility in both men and women and the consequences of falling out of line.
A study by The New York Times looked at how society evaluates women who are perceived as forceful or assertive in terms of competency and worth. Participants thought women who behaved (in their view) forcefully and assertively were 35% less competent and worth a salary of $15,088 less than their male counterparts.
Why? Because over time, society has developed a comfortable narrative of strong, prideful men and genteel, humble women. When women, or even men, fail to fit these stereotypes, their value as a human being goes down. Is that the world you want to live in? Absolutely not.
The sad truth is society values pride in men and humility in women, not the other way around. As a result, far too many women live with the perception that speaking up for themselves and advocating powerfully for their goals makes them less likable. They fear being seen as haughty or arrogant and worry about
When I looked for words of wisdom before writing this article, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of quotes from religious figures eschewing pride and honoring humility. Even more interesting was how these thoughts transcended religious affiliation and time.
St. Augustine said, “It was pride that turned angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” Incredibly, nearly 1,000 years later, Confucius said, “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.”
Countless other quotes across a wide variety of belief systems echo these sentiments. In most religious circles, the more humble you are, the closer you are to the belief system’s ideal, whether it's God or the best version of yourself.
I’m a staunch advocate for working toward your ideal you, but is total dispensation with pride and complete focus on humility the way? I don’t think so. Without at least a little pride, advocating for yourself can be challenging. Too much humility can mean losing your sense of self. You need both to evolve into the person you’re meant to be.
You might think secular society would strike a different chord than religious circles. In reality, for the most part, both perpetuate the same notion that pride is bad and humility is good.
You risk being categorized as egotistical if you’re too proud of yourself and your accomplishments. Writer Ernest Hemingway said it well, "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."
At the heart of the issue is the notion of superiority, a false correlation between pridefulness and believing you’re better than everyone else. That’s why humility is so necessary. It’s an essential check on pride to remind you that despite your accomplishments, others have achievements worth celebrating, too.
All the while, countless empowerment movements have sprung up in the last several decades, all dedicated to encouraging pride for one’s uniqueness where there was once shame. I support these movements wholeheartedly, though I struggle to ignore the double standard.
If you show pride in your interpersonal relationships, on a one-to-one level, you risk being judged as a braggart or even stuck up. But without pride, you can’t claim your value, strengths, and accomplishments.
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, said, “Humility isn't denying your strengths; it's being honest about your weaknesses."
I don’t think you have to choose humility over pride or pride over humility—you need both! The challenge lies in striking a balance that allows you to understand your power, accept your power, and have the courage to use it.