Human culture has an interesting relationship to pride. On the one hand, it’s encouraged to do things that make authority figures proud of you, and to do things that make you proud of yourself. On the other, you don’t want to be arrogant. You don’t want to be so proud of yourself that you seem like an asshole.
I used to be anti-pride. I thought of pride only in the sense of conceit. I thought it was impossible to be proud and humble at the same time. I saw pride as the enemy of humility; some religious traditions hold the same view.
I found myself re-examining this position when I discovered that Buddhist traditions tell people, when they are meditating, to take on a “dignified” posture. You are told to sit with dignity. This is exemplified by someone sitting with their back straight and chest lifted, while the chin is tucked slightly in. You want to feel strong in your posture without forcing it.
This instruction for meditation made me reflect on the distinctions between pride and dignity. You might say dignity is a form of pride; that’s cool with me. What I’d like to do is point out how dignity is a positive quality to cultivate.
Dignity, in my mind, is a self-respect based on feeling that the actions you take are wholesome for yourself and moral in relation to others. Basically it’s feeling good about yourself because you do good things.
If you exercise and eat healthy consistently, dignity is the confidence and empowerment you feel from taking those self-benefiting actions. If you apologize for something you did that you know was wrong, and make a genuine effort to atone for that wrongdoing, then the clear conscience you experience afterward is another way of feeling dignified.
Pride in it’s negative sense is more about vanity and self-image. You want others to think that you’re cool. Maybe you dress in clothes you don’t even like to look good in the eyes of a certain person or group of people. Maybe you buy something expensive as a status symbol. Maybe you try really hard to be good at something so others will be impressed.
In any case, the kind of pride that can poison us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually is always about how others perceive us. It saps our authenticity; we try to be something that we aren’t for the sake of being seen a certain way.
Dignity is about living authentically and wholesomely. If we can truly be ourselves, while still doing the right thing, that is dignity. It is an excellent moral compass to live by. We should all try to take the actions that will make us feel dignified afterward.