Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Being Proud . . . or Free

A lot is written about freedom on the Fourth of July. Two years ago that was this blog’s topic. But all National holidays also bring up another issue for me – pride. When I was living in New Zealand, a friend asked me if I am proud to be an American. She comes from a country where America is not well loved, and so the question took me by surprise.

I never know how to answer that question because it has so many levels. First, it assumes I had anything to do with being American or America being as it is. I vote, but I am not particularly political. I have my beliefs, but I tend not to share them outside of my group of friends.  In short, my way of changing the world, so to speak, is through my daily life, not through any political process. Therefore, I have little say in how America is shaped. I had even less say in being born here.

Second, the question asks about arbitrary boundaries we, as humans, have created. I recognize that humans have been group focused since our species began. It is a protective mechanism. Intellectually, I understand that then led to city-states and eventually our modern countries. I “get” that is why people go to war. 

But on a deeper level it makes absolutely no sense to me and never has. I have been blessed to have traveled through many countries and met people from many more. I have been even more blessed to get to know many of these people. And while I see that people have different views and ideas and beliefs, I also see how similar we are. While I always believed this on a deep level, yoga has helped me truly see it and express it. Yoga, by helping me turn inward, has helped me clear away all the barriers we create between ourselves and “others,” and now, more than ever, I know in the deepest and least deep parts of myself that we are really so much more similar than some would have us believe.

Finally, the question asks about pride. This is a concept I have never fully understood. Its definition is not flattering, and synonyms include conceit, vanity, and and arrogance. It is defined as either a simple sense of pleasure from achievements or an “inordinate sense of self esteem.” Should we be proud of our academic achievements? Should we be proud of raising a family? Should we be proud we have a nice house and a nice car? Should we be proud we saved someone from a raging fire? Should we expect others to be proud of us? I have never fully come to terms with answering any of these questions.

I have noticed the issue of pride a lot recently, but the best example is on one particular listserv to which I subscribe. Suffice it to say that it is a listserv for lawyers who work in the child welfare arena. I subscribe because sometimes the information is invaluable for my work. I have come close to unsubscribing numerous times, however, because people on the listserv not only often disagree with one another but do it in an accusatory, and frankly mean, fashion. They actually accuse each other of not caring about children. These are people who subscribe to a listserv and take the time to write on it amidst incredibly busy schedules. While I sometimes, perhaps often, disagree with their beliefs, I never question their dedication and commitment to children and families.

But it is easy to question other peoples' commitment and motivations when pride gets in the way – pride in our own belief systems. Pride can be what blocks our ability to see how others see the world. Pride can stop us from taking those yoga moments, breathing, and asking if we can look at life from a new perspective.

So, on this Fourth of July, I want to look beyond this question of Pride. What if we could be free of pride?

Today, the world is more interconnected than ever before, and that interconnectedness continues to grow exponentially nearly daily. If we continue to draw these lines between ourselves, we will keep ourselves from that interconnectedness. When we see how similar we are, when we understand how much we all want what is best for the world, we need not resort to name calling and petty disagreements. Today, we are faced with problems never before seen, but our deep connection to one another, when we tap into it, can help us overcome those problems. And that is where the real freedom lies.

What if pride were measured by how connected we were today? Would that not make us freer than ever before? Would that not be the best way to celebrate that "all [people] are created equal?"


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.


  1. I've always shared with you, your reluctance to use the word "pride" recognizing that it is what 'goeth before the fall.' More recently though I've begun to "feel pride" which, for me, is that feeling of recognition I perceive in myself that I have [or my group has]contributed to the 'common good.' The pride Hockey Players feel in winning the Stanley Cup or the pride I feel in I can trace my my government back to the very first in the Western World to articulate the principles in the Declaration. To me, this is the kind of pride that spurs me [us] on to even greater accomplishment; to create that more perfect union; it is different from the pride that goeth before the fall. Pride on "this side of line" is good; pride on the other side is dangerous.

    1. I definitely see it as a matter of degree. I just wish we had "pride" in different areas of our lives. But even then, I am not sure pride is the right word. Thanks for the insights.

  2. interesting. i gotta say, there's a bunch of anti-american sentiment in Canada, but you're right in that our borders are arbitrary. sure there are some definite cultural differences, but that's what makes life interesting :)

    re: pride. yes i agree with you, but i also agree that it is a matter of degree.

    1. I have definitely felt the anti-American sentiment in Canada. I have a lot of family there (including Halifax), and I have spent time around various parts of Canada. I think one of the biggest problems with borders is that people assume everyone on one side of the border is the same as each other. We are not, or we are all the same as each other regardless of borders.