Pride and Shame

In my mostly ignored thread about young Germans, the subject of pride was batted a bit.

Baron Greenback made the point that pride (and presumably shame) should arise from things for which one is directly responsible. I agree, and this has been much on my mind of late, because when I really examine it closely, I realize that virtually everything I like about myself are things that I feel simply fortunate for, not proud, because I don’t feel I have any agency in their existence. And this led me to realize that conversely, I feel lots of responsibility for the things about which I feel shame or regret, which isn’t really fair since those things tend to be just as much outside my genuine control as the things about which I’m glad.

My best friend argues that some of my good stuff arose from choices I made, and while that’s technically true, it’s not as though I was much inclined to make different sorts of choices… it’s really just how I’m made.

When I think of things I’m proud of, it’s things I’ve actually done, not anything about the way I am.

The other thread was addressing national pride and shame, which exist even though logically there’s not all that much reason for any of us to feel particularly proud or ashamed of our countries and governments, since for the most part we have no real hand in the things they do. But people have those feelings anyway, I do to some degree. (that was the point of my thread: what’s it like to be German cuz, well, Germany.)

I’ve always found it kind of weird when people declare that they are “proud” of being sex/ethnicity/nationality/sexual orientation, etc. I know it’s just a commonly used way of rejecting feeling shame for being any of those things, but still it always sounds odd to me.

What say you?

I do feel a sense of shame when my country does something ugly and nasty as a matter of policy (Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.) I also feel a small measure of responsibility, as my official representatives are acting in the name of We The People.

We exercise our responsibility by voting, and speaking out, and perhaps donating to the campaign of a candidate who promises reform. We can expiate the shame, at least to a degree, in the same way: by distancing ourselves from bad policy.

I definitely agree that it is pointless and foolish to be “proud to be an American.” Lucky, yes. Deeply appreciative of the gifts bestowed upon us by our ancestors, definitely. Determined to maintain those gifts, assuredly. And I’m slightly proud when America, today, actually does something morally credit-worthy, because to a very slight degree we are personally responsible for the good our country does.

I’m not proud “to be an American,” but I’m proud when we send out a big rescue operation to save people in a flood zone or earthquake. That’s us, WTP, doing something right.

TLDR – Pride in one’s accomplishments plays a different role for a person and in society than does pride in things for which a person is not directly responsible. Both roles have value. I think the ‘weirdness’ comes up to the extent that these roles get blurred.

To answer the OP I am going to focus on pride and arbitrarily distinguish between two kinds of pride:

  1. An outward-looking feeling that leads one to conclude that they (and/or their group) have a superiority over others
  2. An inward-looking feeling that leads one to conclude that they (and/or their group) have worth

In my experience, type 1 pride is usually not well-received. What American culture has more or less settled on, however, is that we should accept a person’s type 1 pride, to a point, if that person has ‘earned’ it. If an athlete goes and talks about how great he is, and then wins, the reaction is very different than if he had lost. His win, in the eyes of the community, earns him the right to be proud and see himself as a superior athlete. Ideally it only gives him the right to manifest type 1 pride in sports, but in the real world societies usually let “successful” people act superior than others and dominate others in areas that have nothing to do with their accomplishments.

On the other hand, if people feel that a person has not earned the right to feel type 1 pride in a context, they more likely to lash out at it, especially if they feel threatened. Criticism of someone taking pride in something they were not directly responsible for is the result of a culture or ideology that says that things outside of a person’s control like race, sexual orientation, or national origin are not acceptable reasons for manifesting type 1 pride in any situation.

As for the second type of pride, it has followed the opposite trajectory. The idea that people have an inherent dignity and worth that is explicitly unearned and inviolable is increasingly accepted. Consequently, those parts of people that are out of their control, like their families or just being human, are recognized as contributing to a person’s inherent worth and dignity and having their own value. We can see, then, why it’s not weird that people who are discriminated against because of their race or orientation feel pride or shame in them, or even why a person can feel proud about the accomplishments of an ancestor or a countryman. In addition to being treasured as constant reminders of a person’s own basic worth, these traits or identities or relationships serve as connections to others. They provide ready pathways to help other people see their own basic worth. I would be very surprised if seeing the faces of little Black kids after he got elected President didn’t make President Obama feel proud to be Black, and to feel that it was a good thing for him to be proud to be Black.

Unfortunately, while pride in the mundane accomplishment of being human is generally recognized as being type 2 pride outside of PETA, the discourses of pride in areas like race or national origin or religion are much more complicated. For example, many people recoil when they see pride in nationality because (as in Germany) they have memories of it being a vehicle for type 1 pride more than type 2, and with accompanying disasters. Then they police it to make sure it doesn’t overstep its bounds. If this identification is strong enough, like with white supremacy, then there is an effort to stamp it out entirely, or at least try to convince people that this connection isn’t a valuable one for judging self-worth. However, in cases where a group is historically discriminated against, there is more openness to seeing it as healthy, nonthreatening type 2 pride.

Shame is tightly associated with this dynamic, and sometimes plays a similar role. The discourse of national humiliation in China has been closely tied to Chinese patriotism for over 150 years. The shame many Americans felt when they learned War on Terror prisoners were tortured is often paired with vigorous calls for political action and justice. Even though they feel shame, they choose (ETA: I recognize for many it’s not a conscious choice) to suffer it as the price worth paying for the ability to use their shared connection to then influence others and re-build type 2 pride.

It kinda blows me away how apparently enfranchised and connected to national policy you feel just from your personal (ultimately completely insignificant) vote. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or you shouldn’t feel that way, it’s just a very stark contrast from my own feelings.

I do vote, mainly because I was raised being fed all the same lines about civic duty and whatnot and I feel a bit guilty if I don’t. But I feel absolutely no connection to any political figure or anything they do in any way, even if I voted for them and they won. Maybe it’s the very thin illusion of choice, when you are spoon-fed a very small handful of candidates with even fewer having any real chance of winning. Or maybe it’s the fact that they very rarely do anything they said they would do once elected. Or maybe it’s just being one in a sea of many millions of voters. But I certainly can’t begin to fathom anything resembling pride or shame based on anything some politician does (or doesn’t do). That simply has nothing to do with me.

Shame, pride, guilt et al. are emotions, so by definition they aren’t rational. You can do the CBT thing and try to change the underlying beliefs that are driving your feelings. But it only makes sense to do this when your emotions get carried away and start affecting your behavior. If a wave of shame or pride or whatever simply passes over you and is quickly replaced by some other feeling, then what’s the problem?

I agree. As an example, I have never understood why someone would say they’re “proud to be black” or “proud to be white.”

In the cases where the thing one’s being proud of has been a subject of persecution, ostracization or social stigma, the statement “I’m proud of being black/homosexual/a woman/a Jew/a Muslim” - or whatever this or that segment of society may be - actually carries more weight than the type of unfounded, nationalistic pride you’re likely to find on a bumper sticker, with statements such as “Proud to be American” or English or Finnish.

The reason it carries more weight is obvious, since it seeks to show support and solidarity toward a cause, at the possible consequence of being persecuted/ostracized/stigmatized, and it therefore warrants more respect and understanding than other things also under the category of accidents of birth that people are proud of, such as belonging to a country or a city or supporting a certain football club.

That’s morally speaking. Logically speaking, there is no difference between any form of pride that’s not based on actual personal achievement. As George Carlin put it, you can be happy you’re American, but to be proud is meaningless and unsolicited information.

Politically speaking, specially when talking about countries where there is democratic representation and accountability, being proud to belong to that country at certain times is understandable. For example, if I were an American who voted for Obama, and I saw him offering aid to a country that suffered a natural disaster, or intervening to stop a war, or to protect a group of persecuted individuals, I can happily say, “I’m proud to have given Obama my vote,” or “today, I’m proud to be American.”

Similarly, the issue of German shame owing to the Swastika-spiked history was way stronger in the generation that was born during or right after WWII, because 1) it’s basically the present; it’s not yet history, 2) the very parents of those ashamed children were on either side of the street, greeting the Fuhrer’s motorcade with an outstretched arm and a cold stare of nationalistic nuttery. As more time passed, however, and as the resultant two German nations grappled with other types of issues through the 20th century and right up to the unification, those feelings of shame have diminished. It must be noted, though, that Germany as a country is still operating with a sense of guilt, institutionally speaking, and this is evident in their current foreign relations with the State of Israel.

That’s my opinion.

Do you understand nationalism? Do you understand “I’m proud to be American” any more than “I’m proud to be black”?

Emotions aren’t intended to make sense. When I’m watching the news and I see the mug shots of black people paraded on the screen, I cringe inside. How irrational is that, right? Those people don’t reflect on me any more than I do them. And yet this doesn’t stop people from lumping all of us together. It doesn’t stop prejudiced people from pointing at the few bad apples to justify why I should be discriminated again. So is it that irrational for me to cringe inside, really?

Seems to me it’s only fair to take pleasure when the “team” is doing well given that the world expects you to hang your head low when the “team” is doing poorly. Everyone who belongs to a team experiences this to a certain degree. Americans in particular.