Pride Goeth Before Destruction

Here is the eighth in a lovely list of ten lessons essential for every high school graduate preparing to venture out into the “real world.” While Elaine Bransford, the AP literature teacher who composed them did so for students, they carry applicability for us all. Number 8:

You should take a cue from great literature and understand that there is one thing that remains as true today as it was 1000 years ago–pride goes before the fall.

Make that more like 3000 years ago: the phrase comes from Proverbs 16:18- “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The only antidote for pride is humility. Hebrew college professor Solomon Schimmel reminds that humility requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves even if we are unhappy with what we see. The proud person rationalizes his faults, since to acknowledge them would threaten his sense of superiority. But the humble person readily admits guilt and patiently listens to reproofs and anger even from her enemies. Your enemies do not seek to protect your self-image with lies and often scrutinize your behavior more accurately than does a friend. Therefore your enemies’ criticisms are often of greater value in exposing your faults than are the kind and soothing words of a friend. Rather than blowing off your critics, the humble person heeds them closely.

However if this only leads you to blame yourself unduly for your faults and shortcomings then it is not humility. You end up in that twisted position of being proud of your humbleness. To excessively blame yourself is to be just as obsessed with yourself as when you were smug. Pride is inordinate self-concern whether cloaked in congratulations or culpability. Both attribute more power and importance to yourself than you actually possess.

It was the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton who once asked, “How can you be humble if you are always paying attention to yourself? If you were truly humble you would not bother about yourself at all.” C.S. Lewis added, “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small dirty object. In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing by comparison—you do not know God at all.”

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