Pride and Curiosity

Although not every day, some mornings I use Shane Claiborne et al’s, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals during my morning prayer. The morning prayer each day includes psalms, scripture readings, remembrances of significant events that occurred on that day, and often a quote from a saint.

Yesterday morning, the quote was from Bernard of Clairvaux, the first sentence of which caused me to raise an eyebrow. It read, “The first step of pride is curiosity.” I paused, since I don’t tend to associate curiosity with pride.

When I read the entire quote, however, the juxtaposition made more sense. Bernard wrote,

The first step of pride is curiosity. How does it show itself? Here is an example. There stands a monk who up to this time had every appearance of being an excellent monk. Now you begin to notice that wherever he is, standing, walking, sitting, his eyes are wandering, his glance darts right and left, his ears are cocked. Some change has taken place in him; every movement shows it. These symptoms show that the monastic’s soul has caught some disease. One who used to watch over his own conduct now is all watchfulness for others.

Curiosity can be a good thing. It can often be a prompt for us to learn. (Einstein’s curiosity about what it would be like for a boy to ride a beam of light led to the development of his theory of relativity.)

But the kind of curiosity Bernard warns us against is that which is constantly wondering what someone else is up to, since it is often with the motive of judging them in relation to oneself. And therein lies the pride. Look at him – he’s not praying as fervently as I am. Look at her – I work a lot harder than she does.

I suspect all of us are guilty, at least on some occasions, of that kind of curiosity. Seeing it for what it is and labeling it an aspect of pride may help us be on guard against its arising.