Good Pride and Bad Pride

Pride goeth before the fall

Pride goeth before the fall

We have heard a good deal about leadership's "dark side", which includes tendencies toward narcissism and egoistic motivations of self-aggrandizement. In this connection, recently published research (2016) distinguishes two kinds of pride: "the prosocial, achievement-oriented form of pride known as authentic pride, and the self-aggrandizing, egotistical form of pride known as hubristic pride."

  • Whereas the first kind of pride, authentic pride, is accompanied by a capacity to delay gratification, hubristic pride undermines this capacity and is characterized by impulsivity. Impulsivity, of course, impedes a more mindful or reflective mode of thought, action, and interaction. It blocks awareness of what might be important to others and of alternative ways of seeing, interpreting, and responding to what we experience.
  • However, we've also learned that development can make a difference! It was found that "self-transcendent value affirmation," reflecting upon and coming to appreciate something beyond self-interest (i.e., common interests, shared values, or concern for others) can moderate the effects of pride on delayed gratification. It has this effect first by interrupting the reactive automaticity of impulse, prompting a reflective pause.
  • Specifically, this research found that "when people feeling hubristic pride had an opportunity to affirm a self-transcendent value that was important to them, their tendency to seek immediate gratification was attenuated." It was by turning their attention to the broader context of their situation, values and interests at stake, that they gained emotional freedom and became more responsible agents.

Considering this research reminds me of a more basic truth about our nature as human beings. Whatever our current dispositional tendencies may be, they are amenable to change... that is, if we have reason to pursue such change and if we persist in our efforts. Knowing and believing this should make us less fearful of seeking feedback from others and of reckoning with our vulnerabilities or "flat sides."

For those who are skeptical about the possibility of personal change and personality change, I would cite another line of research in social psychology concisely summarized in 2014 by Carol Dweck, which disputes the assumption of "fixity." Her studies show that our beliefs about the "malleability" (changeability) of our personal characteristics predicts our ability to change them. 

If we begin with the belief that change is not possible, that qualities such as intelligence, sociability, tolerance for ambiguity, or impulsivity are "fixed" traits, we'll be less likely, indeed less able, to change them. If on the other hand, we believe that with experience, learning, and effort we can adaptively change these tendencies in thought, feeling, and action, we'll not only be more likely to do so, we will do so!

We are free agents. Even though we did not choose our parents or much of what shaped us earlier in life, we remain free to reexamine the beliefs we formed as a result of these experiences. Indeed, the first and most important discovery that arises from a course of developmental self-examination is the freedom we have to make change.

William James presented a paper in 1896, which was later published as an essay, on this topic to the Brown University philosophy club, The Will to Believe.

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