Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Not Proud, but Not Ashamed Either

I have heard a line, over and over, that has made me think, and I thought it an interesting diversion to discuss it today, rather than yet another news commentary.  So UberThoughtsUSA is a politics-free zone today, unless you read the other 600 pieces here.

Which I encourage you to do :).   But I digress.

Today's piece is about mis-assigned pride.  Obviously you have never heard that phrase, because I just made it up.  But it means exactly what it seems like it means, and I hope it will at least have you thinking when the piece, however brief, is completed.

The other night, I watched the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are", which is about celebrities being led through their ancestry, to clear up questions they might have regarding their progenitors.  It is typically a fun show to watch, because tracing ancestry is a fascinating thing to do, and when it is of a celebrity, it is a bit of a voyeuristic exercise for we, hoi polloi.

Sunday night's episode was about the actress Courteney Cox, looking at her otherwise-unknown maternal-side roots.  She had a couple names, but not a lot.  I won't get into too much detail, but after a trip to the U.K. to get into old records, she discovered a few interesting things.  I would think that it would be interesting to discover, as she actually did, that her 19th-great-grandfather had murdered King Edward II, who had been lodged, after abdicating, in a cell in the castle of her 18th-great-grandfather in the 14th Century.

After discovering that, it seemed almost an afterthought when the English genealogist, with whom she was working, showed her particularly aristocratic family tree of the Middle Ages.  French, she was.  A Norman.  In fact, the lady who, in her youth, was the OCD-ish character Monica on the long-running comedy series "Friends", was directly descended from William the Conqueror.

One thing I noticed was that she seemingly never mentioned the word "proud" or "pride" in any of this.  She certainly was fascinated as she went along her family tree and discovered all the noblemen in her ancestry, back to the Norman Conquest and its king, whom she had learned all about years before in school.

It wasn't that she was not happy about her line, but it was more an amazing curiosity and something to talk about.  I think it would be fair to say she reacted as I would have.  Curiosity and maybe something to mention at a party, but that's about it.

You see, I have about had it with "pride."  I am proud to be one thing -- me.  Why?  Because it is all that I can control.  I loved my late parents, and I could admire their lives and accomplishments, but those were their accomplishments.  One grandfather died 94 years ago, how on earth could I know him enough to know what he was like?  I'm certainly not ashamed of any of them, but if I say that my mother was a great lady, that was because she was, not because I can take pride in the things she did or the person she was -- it was she, not I.

So when I hear the term "black pride", or "proud to be Punjabi" or "proud to be born Canadian", I have to ask the obvious question -- "why are you proud of that, you had nothing to do with it!"

It is group-think, and I react poorly to group-think.  We should reserve the word "pride" for ourselves, for what we do and have done, the choices we have made.  We can appreciate that those who raised us taught us how to make those choices, but that's not pride, that's appreciation.

That's a bit why I'm not too excited about inventions like "Black History Month", because they focus on the accomplishments of people who happen to be whatever race or national origin is being "celebrated."  "Ooh, ooh, Charlie So-and-So invented the electric fork!  He was Ugandan, let's put pictures of him up during Hooray for Uganda Month."  But his invention had nothing to do with his being Ugandan and, far more importantly, it doesn't say anything at all about other Ugandans.  Why should his neighbor take any pride for what a different guy did?

So let's be honest; I have a very checkered ancestral background, which leaves me not in much position to know anything about any 3rd-great-grandfathers.  So maybe I'm less hung up on ancestral accomplishments, given that I wouldn't know of any.  But I don't think that's all of it.

Let us reserve "pride" as a designator for our own lives, for what we have done, for the way what we have done has shaped our lives.  Mistakes are mistakes, and perhaps we are proud of the risks we took that led to those mistakes.  Be proud of that.  It is a part of you.

Your ancestors, your race, your national origin, well, that's just blood.  Do not denigrate it, even if you are not descended from William the Conqueror (pretty sure I am not).  But blood is just a curiosity.

They say "You are what you eat", and that is certainly the case in one context.  But more to the point, you are what you have done ... the choices you make, your accomplishments, your contributions to society, family, community and self.  You are what you have done.

Good.  Now you can be proud of something.  Shelve the mis-assigned pride.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

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