Sunday, July 25, 2010

We Should Be Ashamed of Ourselves…For Being So Proud

OK, I’m a grouch, but I just don’t like the general idea of pride. It is so self-focused. It seems to me that a much more desirable response to good things is thankfulness.

It’s related to that self esteem movement that has become so popular, and I don’t like self esteem either. (Since the implication of the verb "esteem" is positive, I'm thinking "low self esteem" qualifies as an oxymoron.) The fact is that self esteem, even in the case of super achievers, is unjustified and that we would all be much better citizens if we would just be thankful for all we have and seek self respect and self confidence instead. We don’t need to be thinking highly of ourselves. We need to be behaving ourselves and learning and building skills so that we can be helpful and make a real contribution to society and thereby earn a living if we need to do so.  If an education system is teaching skills and developing talents at a satisfactory rate, the result will be students with self respect and self confidence.  If it is failing to do so, I guess the only thing left is to go directly to emphasis on pride and self esteem.

Of course self respect and self confidence have to be properly informed. A person may have both for being the best bank robber or the biggest con or having the most sexual exploits. (Check out Frank Abagnale for a good example.) I suggest there’s no better non-threatening (avoiding theological stuff here) starting point for such informing than the Boy Scout Law. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. The toughest ones for me are cheerful and brave.

What called the subject of pride to my attention was a recent letter writer’s comment in The State newspaper, “I am proud of my Confederate heritage.” I guess that means it is something he likes to talk about and reflect on but it is certainly nothing he personally had anything to do with. It probably also means he likes seeing the Confederate flag flying on the SC State House grounds. So, it seems that perhaps what he meant to say is that he is thankful for his Confederate heritage. I think that would be fine. There is certainly no reason anybody should be ashamed of his or her Confederate heritage either because, once again, it is nothing the person had anything at all to do with.

In the present tense, I am often tempted to express pride in some project I have just completed if it turned out well or to be ashamed of it if not. But thankfulness for the skills, talents, tools, resources, and assistance that were required to complete the project seems to me to be a more appropriate emotion in case of success. I think it is generally true that success depends a lot on things we may influence but have no direct control over while we are perfectly capable of failing all by ourselves. And that may be cause for shame when it happens.

Or I might be proud of the South Carolina Gamecocks who recently won the College Baseball World Series. But I didn’t have anything to do with that. And the team will be better off in the long run if they focus on being thankful and on being good role models rather than on being proud. I’m thankful for the win primarily because it provides some opportunity for positive commentary on South Carolina after all the recent bad publicity surrounding our local politicians. I’m not ashamed of even them, however, because, once again, I had nothing to do with their words or actions.  I don't believe the NYT or the WSJ mentioned the Gamecock victory.

We have an anti-litter organization in South Carolina called Palmetto Pride. I’d rather think of keeping my litter in the car until I get home and can appropriately trash it as personal responsibility rather than having anything to do with pride. Certainly anybody tossing their trash out along the road should be ashamed, but they probably don’t have a clue.

Speaking of shame as an opposite to pride, I believe that is where the idea of “Gay Pride” came from… a reaction to tendency of many in society to cast shame on gays…but it seems to me that if gayness is just a normal variant in human sexuality, neither pride nor shame is appropriate. Now behavior is an entirely different thing. Clearly many of us, gay and straight, should be ashamed of our sexual behavior. Well, it’s clear to me anyway. There’s really nothing in that Scout Law about sex except as possibly covered by trustworthy and loyal. Well, maybe reverent, for those of us who believe that we are created by God. I’m pretty sure that if I were gay, I would be ashamed of “gay pride.” But I’m not proud of that.

I was Googling “pride” and found a website,, which offers custom essays for $9.95 a page. The sample essay they provide at their web site to entice students to cheat by doing business with them is entitled Definition of Pride Essay. It includes such literary gems as:

“This is my pride is family.”
“A good job is a big accomplishment nowadays because a lot of forces are put into it.”
“Having a job implies having more possibilities in life and showing true professionalism that is why pride is job.”
“Pride is a lot of things at the same time.”

Somebody should be truly ashamed of that!

Proverbs 16:18: Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.