Pride: The good, the bad and the ugly

Columnist Harvey Mackay says pride can propel people to great accomplishments while also causing some to behave horrendously.

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Jim Tunney, the dean of National Football League referees, wrote a blog post recently that caught my eye. 

He mentioned how when one NFL defensive player intercepts a pass, most of the defensive unit on the field runs to an end zone for a photo op. These players and many others feel the defensive unit is just taking pride in making a big play.

However, a fan wrote to Tunney, describing such tactics as indulgent showboating. Then the fan asked how he should explain to his teenage son what pride is and how to define it.

Tunney had a great response: "Pride is like faith. You can't touch it, but you can see it if you know what to look for. A simile might be that it is like carbon monoxide -- colorless, odorless and tasteless. Intoxicating might be an apt word in that pride can be good or bad."

Pride is a complicated emotion. 

It can propel people to great accomplishments while also causing some to behave horrendously. Some people believe pride is the only disease that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.

Jessica Tracy, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, says the darker side of pride traces back to ancient religious scholars. She said: "In the Bible, pride is deadly. Dante saw it as a deadly sin."

In her book, "Take Pride: Why the Deadly Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success," Tracy writes about two different kinds of pride: "Hubristic pride and authentic pride."  

The problematic hubristic pride is about arrogance and egotism. Insecurity is a chief culprit.	On the other hand, Tracy says authentic pride "is what motivates us to work hard and achieve."

Most often, pride has a negative connotation. With Tracy's definition, it should be a positive. There is nothing negative in taking pride in your work, your achievements or your employees.

Pride to me is being self-confident, but not egotistical. Pride is having a positive, can-do attitude because you will settle for nothing less than your level best.

I have always admired Bud Grant, former Hall of -Fame coach of the Minnesota Vikings, who told his players to "act like you've been there before" when they made a big play. In other words, the person who has the right to boast doesn't have to, because the quality of their work demonstrates the pride they take in a job well done.

These are the elements of positive pride that I recommend:

1. Build a reputation for good work. My father, Jack, always told me, "You spend your whole lifetime building a good name and reputation, and one foolish act can destroy it."  	-- 

2. Embrace your role. Find meaning in what you do and see the big picture of how you fit in. Teamwork is critically important in business and many parts of life. 

3. Continue to improve. I'm a big believer in continuous education. You're not in school once in a lifetime; you're in school all your life.

4. Stay true to yourself. History is full of people who showed great pride in working hard, but when they reached the top, they forgot the people who helped them get there.	

Religious author Craig Brian Larson tells the story of a bullfighter who made a tragic mistake. Near the end of a fight, he thrust his sword a final time into a wounded bull, which then collapsed. Thinking the fight over, the matador turned to the crowd to acknowledge the applause. The bull, however, rose one last time and lunged at the matador, goring him fatally.

Just when we think we've finished off pride, just when we turn to accept the congratulations of the crowd, pride stabs us in the back. We should never consider pride dead before we are. 

Mackay's Moral: Pride is the only poison that is good for you when swallowed.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at , by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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