With the upcoming second inauguration of Barack Obama, I’ve been thinking a lot about the general phenomenon of leadership. I am convinced that ethical leaders display deep selflessness and an absence of the two deadliest of Pope Gregory the Great’s “seven deadly sins” – pride and envy.
The Jewish philosopher and mystic, Spinoza, claims that pride is a “species of madness” because it leads us to think that we can accomplish all things. The fundamental psychology of pride is that it produces a distorted view of self and the world. Pride is about self-absorption, excessive self-esteem, inordinate self-love, and egregious self-evaluation. The Oxford English Dictionary defines pride as “an unreasonable conceit of superiority… and overweening opinion of one’s qualities, talents, and abilities.”
In effect, what pride does is to strip the ability of a person to be objective, to make sound judgments, to be critical. Pride is an excuse for excess, a roadblock to moderation, and a stairway to arrogance. Pride, says poet and Trappist monk Thomas Menton, robs us of our humility and our basic concern for objectivity, because we are constantly focused on self. For Thomas Aquinas, pride is more than narcissism; it is the “distorted desire to be exalted.”