COVID-19 and the Pride Problem

By Dwight Longenecker Published on May 9, 2020

The present pandemic has hammered home the fact that beneath all the world’s problems lurk deeper and darker difficulties. A plague is nothing new. Down through history the human race has battled plagues and pestilence, famines, natural disasters, war, genocide, disease and death. Each crisis has reminded us that we are small players in a much larger drama and there are factors beyond our control.

We cope best when we face the facts and take responsibility, but we plunge further into crisis when we try to shift the blame.

A Fatal Flaw

The great playwrights often built into their hero a fatal flaw — a weakness they had to overcome if they were going to truly become a hero. The fascinating detail about the fatal flaw is that the hero must be blind to the very problem that will cause his downfall. The audience can see the problem and the other characters suffer from the hero’s fatal flaw, but the hero can’t see it. In fact, the hero probably considers the flaw to be one of his strengths.

The fatal flaw within our heroic human race is pride. There is nothing wrong with proper pride — being proud of a job well done, being proud of our family, our faith and our country — this is a proper form of pride. Pride as a fatal flaw is something different however.

The root of pride is much more subtle. It is the basic, overwhelming conviction that “I am right.”

Pride is not the same thing as vanity. Vanity is when we pose, primp and pretend we’re great in some outward way. Vanity is a shallow manifestation of pride. Pride is also not the same as arrogance. The person who boasts, struts and shows off exhibits an outward display of pride, but arrogance is not the same thing as pride.

The Pride Problem

The root of pride is much more subtle. It is the basic, overwhelming conviction that “I am right.” This fundamental assumption about life is the heart of pride. When we say “I am right” we follow it up with “its my way or the highway.” If I am right, those who disagree must — obviously be wrong. The problem with pride is that we soon make the jump from “the other guy is wrong” to “the other guy is bad.”

If the other guy is wrong and bad, then when things go badly we automatically assume the other guy (who is wrong and bad) must be to blame. If the other guy is to blame — if he is wrong and I am right, and if he is bad and I am good — then (because I believe I am a good person) it is up to me to do something about it. So begins the flaw of pride really can become fatal — fatal to the person I begin to punish for being wrong, bad and the cause of my problem.

The Blame Game

The situation becomes very complicated when the other guy really is to blame for the problem in one way or another. For example, at the present time a good number of people are blaming China for the COVID-19 pandemic. Are the Chinese really to blame?

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The virus seems to have originated in China. There seems to be evidence that the Chinese authorities did not act quickly enough with international agencies and other countries to contain the virus and inform the rest of the world in a transparent way. With hindsight that is understandable. Most authorities would try to control information that might cause panic. And most people would respond instinctively with denial and minimizing bad news.

But the communist government is known to be dishonest and double dealing. Did the virus originate in a lab in Wuhan? Was it a bio warfare facility? Was the virus created deliberately? Even worse, was it released deliberately? Now the stakes in the blame game are being raised. No wonder people are taking it one step further and talking about “making China pay” and some are even advocating military action.

Taking Responsibility

When faced with difficulty the mature person always asks how he can take responsibility for the problem. If someone else is to blame, then apportioning that blame is part of the way forward. So is expecting the other party to do their part to solve the problem.

It is also important for the mature person or country to examine themselves. What part of the problem might have been caused by their behaviors? How might they step up to put things right that have gone wrong? The fatal flaw would be to blame the other guy completely and avoid all responsibility oneself.

As Americans there are  questions we would do well to ask ourselves. Accepting that the Chinese authorities bear some of the responsibility, we should ask why we have been so eager to embrace international trade. Did we really need to have all our goods at a cheaper and cheaper price? What price did we really pay for the cheaper goods? Was the loss of millions of American jobs a just price for cheaper prices? Is the virus an unforeseen price for unlimited international commerce and travel? What is the price Chinese factory workers paid for our cheap goods? What were their working conditions and what freedoms were they denied living under a communist regime?

Over the years, decisions are made by American politicians, businessmen and ordinary American shoppers. Our decisions to embrace Chinese trade and travel are part of the larger picture.

The result is that we should realize that the problem is very complicated. It has lots of moving parts. The way to avoid the fatal flaw is to not only point out the other guy’s fault, but also to accept what share we may have in the problem … and then do our part to bring about a positive solution.


Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest working in South Carolina. Check out his new book Immortal Combat – Confronting the Heart of Darkness.

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