What the Greeks Can Teach us about Pride

The Greeks were unashamedly proud. It was considered a virtue. Only when foolishly conveyed or if one was overconfident was it labeled hubris. 

Today pride isn't considered a good thing. Sure there is national or team pride; we can "take pride" in anything. However, when we're labeled as 'prideful', it's not meant as a compliment and we seem to be a society, as seen through social media, as excessively please with our own existence.

Yet, pride remains a part of committed training and exercise. How do we reconcile this without coming across narcissist or attention-seeking? We must remember that true pride is not arrogance or boastfulness, but a pleasure in our own existence. 

A source of wisdom was David Hume (who probably never exercised a day in his life), who gave us a very helpful definition of pride which simply says: pleasure in oneself.

Hume pointed out that pride actually has two parts: the cause of the pleasure and the object we attribute it to. In other words, the "what" of the pride and the "why". Pleasure, therefore, is not random but based on what we value. 

How does pleasure turn into pride? Well, when we exercise the object is ourselves. We can never actually see this object, but we do have a feel for it. We feel our legs, our heart; so this pleasure is passed along psychologically from our legs to our heart to 'us'.

If we take pleasure in exercise, in training, it tells us not just that we think it's important, but that we like it. Pride is approved pleasure in something worthwhile, which we associate with ourselves.

How to have healthy pride
The first hero workout was executed long before the invention of the internet, or the barbell. In Homer's the Illiad, Achilles held funeral games for Patroclus's death who was 'the fastest on his feet'. As the crowds cheered on Odysseus they recalled Patroclus. For much for the same reasons we participate in "Murph", it is a reminder for the living: take pride and pleasure in your muscles and lungs while you can.

We, as athletes, often times feel like Odysseus in this story; described as middle-aged, weary and grumpy. By this shift in focus to competition, he loses his tears and walks proudly again. This emphasis on mortality connects a very Greek (pagan) thought with traditional Christianity: we are bodies and we will suffer and die - all of us, without exception.

An intense muscular effort is so fragile and ephemeral, that taken in circumstance with our mortality, becomes bliss. So pride in exercise is more than a firmer idea of our ordinary being, but with limited days and vitality, we still bother to hone ourselves by striving physically. With all the ways to be comfortable and to justify why we deserve to be so, we have dedicated ourselves to some act of uncomfortable toil. And to this, we are proud.

In this description, pride isn't evil but almost a virtue; we rightly celebrate ourselves for our committed exertion. This isn't arrogance or self-love but recognition in that we might die tomorrow having never touched our limitations. This is less about seizing the day and other positive slogan campaigns and more about being real with ourselves: very fragile and precarious things, with only a little vitality. We can't wait to become something; the self is something we must continually, often intentionally, create.

The French Philosopher, Albert Camus, once argued that Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up the hill for eternity, was happy. It was HIS rock - his duty, his task, no one else's. The pride of training has the same strained happiness, except we, are the rock.

3,2,1,GO...For eternity

3,2,1,GO...For eternity