Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The many faces of pride

The many faces of pride and how it destroys unity

We are often warned against the sin of pride, and with good reason. Many of the ways in which life keeps people humble have been circumvented. Few of us in the “civilized” world have to scratch in the dirt for our daily bread. Many talks, including the famous one by President Ezra Taft Benson, speak of the arrogant sort of pride. But I was not long ago made aware that pride can wear many faces, some of which, on first glance, may appear to be humility. In order for us to avoid the various masks which pride can wear, we must understand what President Benson taught was the very “core” of pride: enmity. In his words: “Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing. The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4)

President Benson also said that pride is a misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. How can that be? If we are trying to be sufficiently humble, to share our substance, and to care about others, how can we be standing in a place of pride? Easier than it sounds, that is for sure. Because the key is enmity. How often do we stand in a place of opposition to other people? Does it have to be that we think we are better than they are? How about if we think we are not as good? How about if we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves thinking that we are not as thin, clever, wealthy, organized, talented, or spiritual as other people? Is that pride? It is. We had a wonderful Sunday School teacher who pointed this out to me, and I was absolutely floored to realize this tendency was pride. In President Benson’s words, “Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us…There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up.”

In a talk by Henry B. Eyring, "That We May Be One," he said, “The Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, said of those who would be part of His Church: ‘Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine’ (D&C 38:27). …With skill, hatred, and cunning, Satan pursues his goal. It is the opposite of the purpose of our Heavenly Father and the Savior. They would give us perfect union and eternal happiness. Satan, their enemy and ours, has known the plan of salvation from before the Creation. He knows that only in eternal life can those sacred, joyful associations of families endure. Satan would tear us from loved ones and make us miserable. And it is he who plants the seeds of discord in human hearts in the hope that we might be divided and separate. … The Savior of the world spoke of that unity and how we will have our natures changed to make it possible.” He goes on to say, “…the gospel of Jesus Christ can allow hearts to be made one. Those who would believe the truth He taught could accept the ordinances and the covenants offered by His authorized servants. Then, through obedience to those ordinances and covenants, their natures would be changed. The Savior’s Atonement in that way makes it possible for us to be sanctified. We can then live in unity, as we must to have peace in this life and to dwell with the Father and His Son in eternity.”

Elder Eyring also tells us that, “The Spirit puts the testimony of truth in our hearts, which unifies those who share that testimony. The Spirit of God never generates contention…. It never generates the feelings of distinctions between people which lead to strife. It leads to personal peace and a feeling of union with others. It unifies souls. A unified family, a unified Church, and a world at peace depend on unified souls….We must speak no ill of anyone. We must see the good in each other and speak well of each other whenever we can. At the same time, we must stand against those who speak contemptuously of sacred things, because the certain effect of that offense is to offend the Spirit and so create contention and confusion. If we are to have unity, there are commandments we must keep concerning how we feel. We must forgive and bear no malice toward those who offend us. We do not know the hearts of those who offend us. Nor do we know all the sources of our own anger and hurt. There is a protection against pride, that sure source of disunity. It is to see the bounties which God pours upon us not only as a mark of His favor but an opportunity to join with those around us in greater service.” (Henry B. Eyring, “That We May Be One,” Ensign, May 1998, 66)

Sister Pam Wilson Vandenaker, in a talk entitled “Stripped of Envy, wrote, “Envy is a form of pride…. The practice of comparing ourselves to others is usually at the root of envy. It causes us to feel that we aren’t good enough and that in order to be acceptable we have to achieve more, acquire more, or in other ways appear to be ‘better’ than others. It occurs when we do not value ourselves sufficiently as children of God and consequently feel we have to prove our worth by ‘doing’ or ‘having.’ Part of the reason envy can be so difficult to recognize in ourselves is that it often disguises itself in other feelings and behaviors. One disguise envy wears is the tendency to criticize. Another is the desire to act in a way that will provoke envy in others. The good news is, once we unmask envy and begin to eliminate it, we can begin to feel much better about ourselves and others around us.” Sister Vandenaker mentions that low self-worth and competing with others can be forms of pride. She quotes from Betsy Cohen’s book, The Snow White Syndrome: All About Envy (1986): “[many of us] ‘have inner standards of excellence and perfection that are hard or impossible to meet’ often causing emotional pain. We may have a hard time admitting mistakes and living with imperfections. If not careful, says the author, we can end up envious of those who seem to achieve more or who seem more comfortable being imperfect.” Sister Vandenaker quotes from Alma: “Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared.” We need to be stripped of envy and other weaknesses to be prepared to “stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body” (Alma 5:15). Sister Vandenaker states that “as we become free of envy or jealousy or any other weakness, we are much more enabled to acknowledge who and what we are. In the process of being “stripped of envy,” we also receive the gift of being restored to an awareness of our worth as beautiful, unique children of God.” (Pam Wilson Vandenaker, “Stripped of Envy,” Ensign, Mar. 1999, 19)

James M. Paramore, in a talk entitled “Love One Another” said that our Heavenly Father “loves us so much that He gave us His most sacred eternal truths—His commandments—eternal standards to live by…when God’s love is known and felt and His commandments followed, the results are always the same. There is a newness of life—a spiritual awakening—that comes to man, its own witness that it is true. It is never forced or brought about by fear, but rather by a bond of love that develops between our Father in Heaven and His children. It is no wonder that we are counseled to look to God and live. This love reaches deep into the inner man, removes barriers, and causes an open spirit to emerge to be receptive to truth, goodness, and change. As it develops in man, he is turned outward toward others—gradually overcoming himself. Then the miracle really happens. Men thus touched and changed by this love of God begin to look upon their neighbors with profound respect and awe for who they are, what their potential really is as children of an eternal father. As man perceives this love, he begins to overlook the flaws that make up every mortal being and to ‘esteem his brother as himself.’ (D&C 38:24.) He lifts and desires to help him whenever and wherever he can. Man’s spirit reaches out to everyone, for now there is no enmity, no envy, no restricting philosophies, pride, or vanity—even language does not separate men—there is only an openness and oneness with the Spirit and will of God. The scriptures are beautiful and clear: ‘There [will be] no contention in the land,’ ‘because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.’ (4 Ne. 1:15, Rom. 5:5.) (James M. Paramore, “Love One Another,” Ensign, May 1981, 53)

So, whether pride wears the mask of arrogance or low self-worth, envy or criticism, the effect of it is still the same: disunity. As President Benson said, “Pride affects all of us at various times and in various degrees. Now you can see why the building in Lehi’s dream that represents the pride of the world was large and spacious and great was the multitude that did enter into it. Pride is the universal sin, the great vice. Yes, pride is the universal sin, the great vice. The antidote for pride is humility—meekness, submissiveness. It is the broken heart and contrite spirit.” Let us not allow Satan to divide us. If we wish to be part of the Lord’s Kingdom, we must accord ourselves and all of our brothers and sisters on this earth with our true worth as “beautiful, unique children of God” as Sister Vandenaker said. Let us be one, with the Lord, and with each other, that we might, as Elder Eyring suggested, "have peace in this life and to dwell with the Father and His Son in eternity."
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