Pride and Mindful Thinking

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In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else;...There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”1

To which vice is he referring? Pride.

Pride: An unreasonable conceit of one’s own superiority; inordinate self-esteem.

Now before we go any further in discussing pride as a vice, I want to look at it as a virtue.

C.S. Lewis said, “Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says ‘Well done,’ are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted to please.”1

Pride: A noble self-esteem springing from a consciousness of worth; Rational evaluation of oneself; a feeling of happiness you get when you or someone you know does something good, difficult, etc.

We must have a degree of pride in ourselves and our abilities, and know that we are capable of making rational decisions and doing hard things because self confidence is vital to further growth. The difference between proper and improper pride begins when we start to compare our accomplishments or knowledge to that of others, and that doesn’t only mean being arrogant about ourselves and what we can do, improper pride also includes being self-deprecating. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. 2

“If the opposite of humility is pride, which is in essence self-glorification, counterfeit humility is self-loathing, hating oneself, always talking down about oneself to others, shunning or shrugging off compliments all the time. Some people confuse self-loathing with humility. But it’s a counterfeit or false humility. Because the truth is that self-loathing and self-glorification really aren’t that different. They both share the same root, namely obsession with oneself.”3

C.S. Lewis said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man…It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” 1

So way back in the April 1989 session of conference President Hinckley read an address prepared by Ezra Taft Benson.There are always a few conference talks that stick in your mind long after they are given and I think this is one of them. He mentions many ways that pride might manifest itself.

  • Judging Others
  • Faultfinding
  • Gossiping
  • Backbiting
  • Murmuring
  • Living beyond our means
  • Envying
  • Coveting
  • Withholding gratitude
  • Being unforgiving
  • Jealousy
  • Conceit
  • Arrogance
  • Rebelliousness
  • Unrepentant
  • Easily Offended
  • Vanity

  • President Benson taught that all of these things are elements of the sin, but they are not the core of the sin. He said, “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.” He also stated, “Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. I repeat: Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.”4

    Zion refers to a people of one heart and one mind who dwell together in righteousness. It is something that we as Latter-Day Saints are working towards, but pride is often damning in our effort to reach that goal. Active Latter-Day Saints try to live the law of consecration as it has been explained to us, but what if we were called upon today to go even further? What if our Prophet asked us to submit an inventory of our possessions and our wealth in order to divide it evenly between us and our fellow ward members? Would we rejoice in having "all things common" (Acts 2:44-45) with our fellow men or would we choke on bitter lumps of judgment we have made about whether or not they deserve such generosity?

    A memorable reminder to swallow our pride and refrain from harsh judgment is given in the following parable, from the bookFollowing Christ by Stephen E. Robinson.
    Image Credit: Markus Spiske


    “Many years ago, when I was somewhere between nine and eleven, I participated in a community summer recreation program in the town where I grew up. I remember in particular a diving competition for the different age groups held at the community swimming pool….There was one kid my age from the less affluent part of town who didn’t have his own pool...While the rest of us did our crisp little swan dives, back dives, and jackknives, being ever so careful to arch our backs and point our toes, this young man attempted back flips, one-and-a-half’s, doubles and so on. But, oh, he was sloppy. He seldom kept his feet together, he never pointed his toes, and he usually missed his vertical entry. The rest of us observed with smug satisfaction as the judges held up their scorecard that he consistently got lower marks than we did with our safe and simple dives, and we congratulated ourselves that we were actually the better divers….
    The announcement of the winners was a great shock to us, for the brave young lad with the flips had apparently beaten us all. However, I had kept rough track of the scores in my head, and I knew with the arrogance of limited information that the math didn’t add up....And so, certain that an injustice was being perpetrated, I stormed the scorer’s table and demanded an explanation. “Degree of difficulty,” the scorer replied matter-of-factly as he looked me in the eye. “Sure, you had better form, but he did harder dives. When you factor in the degree of difficulty, he beat you hands down, kid.” Until that moment I hadn’t known that some dives were awarded “extra credit” because of their greater difficulty.…” Whenever I am tempted to feel superior to other Saints, the parable of the divers comes to my mind, and I repent. At least at a swim meet, we can usually tell which dives are the most difficult. But here in mortality, we cannot always tell who is carrying what burdens: limited intelligence, clinical depression, compulsive behaviors, learning disabilities, dysfunctional or abusive family background, poor health, physical or psychological handicaps - no one chooses these things. So I must not judge my brothers and sisters.”5

    Easier said than done though, as always. Little thoughts of dissatisfaction with others wiggle their way carefully into our brains nearly every hour of every day. It seems I need to constantly tell myself the same thing I tell my children every day which is, "Worry about yourself!" I can't tell you how many times I'll ask a child if they've done their household responsibilities yet and the response will be, "Well my sister didn't do hers yet." To which I will usually respond, "I didn't ask about your sister, I want to know what you have been doing." God is the ultimate parent. He is the one that gets to worry about what my brothers and sisters in mortality are doing. He wants me to leave their doings alone and worry about myself.

    Image Credit: Michael Good, Wholehearted Human

    When I was diagnosed with panic disorder many years ago, I had a therapist help me learn some techniques for mindful thinking which is basically, thinking about what you are thinking about. A lot of the time I would be unaware of negative thought patterns that spiraled downward throughout the day or week which would ultimately culminate in a massive panic attack or depressive episode. To help me manage these attacks I was taught to be aware of negative thought patterns so that I could redirect them. Now, being a long time sufferer of mental maladies, I will add here that sometimes no matter how positive you try to think or how logically you look at your circumstances, you will still get depressed or have panic attacks. However, being able to cope with them and overcome them quicker, and sometimes even successfully prevent them, is a big plus of mindful thinking. What does this have to do with pride you ask? Well think of your brain as a jungle through which you're trying to make your way. If you're forging a path through it for the first time you're encountering dense foliage as you go along. Some plants you pull out, some you break until you're through. The next day you take that same path and break more plants and branches. Every day that you walk that path you compact the soil more and tear out more foliage. Eventually, use after use, you've worn that path well. It is clear of plants and easy to travel. Well neural pathways in our brains create patterns of thought. The more often we follow certain thought pathways, the more established and easy to travel they become. This is how habits are formed. Delbert L. Stapley taught, "Good habits are not acquired simply by making good resolves...Good habits are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. It is not in the great moments of test and trial that character is built. That is only when it is displayed. The habits that direct our lives and form our character are fashioned in the often uneventful commonplace routine of life. They are acquired by practice."6

    We practice thinking patterns of all kinds every day without even realizing it. To stop prideful behaviors we need to be cognizant of prideful thoughts so that we can form a habit of redirecting them. Thought leads to action. Action leads to habit. Habit shapes our character.
    In a BYU address Richard R. Sudweek wrote the following:
    "Now consider the interesting assertion made by Alma the Younger in Alma 12:14:For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us. Alma declared that people will be judged by their thoughts as well as by their behavior. I believe that Alma’s statement in this verse refers more to the thinking habits and dispositions that characterize our minds than to discrete, isolated thoughts.One reason the Lord will hold us accountable for our thoughts is because of the relationship between a person’s thinking habits and his character. This relationship is taught in Proverbs 23:7. We typically replace the pronoun in this passage and paraphrase the verse to read “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This scripture teaches that we become what we think. In the words of James Allen, “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” The verb thinketh in Proverbs 23:7 is expressed in the progressive tense, suggesting that this passage refers more to our ongoing thinking habits than to isolated, individual thoughts that temporarily occupy our minds. It is a person’s mental habits and thinking dispositions that will largely determine his or her character rather than random, isolated thoughts.

    I'll end with a quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk, The Merciful Obtain Mercy. “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it! It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children...I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw… "Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”...Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves?”8

    1.Lewis, C.S.The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics: Mere Christianity.C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. 2002.
    2.Uchtdorf, Dieter F., "Pride and the Priesthood".Ensign, November 2010.
    3.Brian Cochran, November 21, 2012, "Genuine Humility is Self-Forgetfulness"
    4.Benson, Ezra Taft, "Beware of pride".Ensign, May 1989.
    5.Robinson, Stephen E.Following Christ: The parable of the divers and more good news. Deseret Book Company,2002.
    6.Stapley, Delbert L., "Good Habits Develop Good Character".Ensign, November 1974.
    7.Sudweeks, Richard R., "Thinking Habits and Dispositions".BYU Speeches, July 15, 2003.
    8.Uchtdorf, Dieter F., "The Merciful Obtain Mercy".Ensign, May 2012.