04 September 2010

The Perils of Pride

St. Paul's exhortation, in today's first reading, that all that we have has been given to us as a gift is a healthy reminder to us that a helpful protection against pride is a spirit of gentleness. This gentleness -- like charity -- must begin at home: with ourselves.

When we fall short of our own expectations there can be a tendency to beat up on ourselves and, harshly, to ensure that we do not make the same mistake or fall short in the same way at the next opportunity. Although the outcome of "self-improvement" is meritorious, one must consider the far-reaching effects of not being gentle with himself. If the manner in which we treat ourselves is unforgiving, how can be certain that we will respond with gentleness to an erring child, student, or friend? This is not to say that we should dispense with standards and never hold ourselves (or others) accountable. Rather, we might consider that a balance in our approach to self-discipline would not compromise our ability to be firm but might make help to make our interactions with others more gentle, more compassionate and more forgiving.

In addition to the potential danger of lacking gentleness in our interactions with our neighbors, showing a harshness to ourselves is actually a form of pride itself. St. Francis de Sales suggests, in his spiritual advice, that we should never be shocked at our imperfections and failings. For to act surprised is to manifest a subtle pride in thinking ourselves to be better and further along in our pursuit of virtue than we really are. He suggests that we should pick ourselves up from our fall and continue along our journey, never manifesting surprise at our frailty and, with gentleness, continuing along our way.

"One important direction in which to exercise gentleness, is with respect to ourselves, never growing irritated with one's self or one's imperfections; . . . Many people fall into the error of being angry because they have been angry, vexed because they have given way to vexation, thus keeping up a chronic state of irritation, which adds to the evil of what is past, and prepares the way for a fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and irritation against one's self fosters pride, and springs entirely from self-love."
St. Francis de Sales

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