Bad Pride, Good Pride

I want to talk for a few minutes about pride. Because I think it’s hurting us. And, contrarily, I also think we need more of it.

By us, I mean (again) the average American. I think pride, more often that not, (though, as with anything, there are exceptions), gets in the way of the sort of work that needs to be done to improve those things that need improving in our society and in our lives, more than it advances this same work.

I’m going to explain why, but, first, the exception. The good side of pride.

Pride is essential. You can’t argue against the necessity of the sort of pride that comes with self-respect, or that rides on the coattails of love (pride for family and friends) or, most important, the pride that feeds you when you’ve got little else. I can testify personally to these sorts of pride. I wouldn’t be standing on my feet today, at least not in the particular way that I need to, without each of these fundamental types of pride.

But I can also testify to the dark side of pride. The kind that, under the “right” circumstances, can tear down or impede the progress made by all other forms of it. Bad pride.

Bad pride is something you put between yourself and the world. It’s related to fear, in that way, except fearfulness can be forgiven a bit, because it’s often reflexive and instinctual, even when it shouldn’t be.

But make no mistake: bad pride is a decision. Especially when used to mask fear or something like it – it’s a choice.

It’s admittedly tricky, trying to figure out whether you’re a user of bad pride. Again, pride itself is a pervasive concept, especially in America, where exceptionalism is the rule. The delineations that separate some of pride’s primary forms, as I’ve just discussed them, aren’t always so apparent – especially because pride is such a potent, powerful, sometimes overwhelming emotion. Of course it’s powerful. We’ve already established how many vastly different sub-emotions can be stuffed inside the word. Self-respect, love, will power – many of these essential human elements can’t subsist without pride.

But bad pride, to me, exists outside the realm of subsistence, of humanity even. It’s more like a suit of armor that we put on to protect us, when we’re frightened. When we don’t understand something. When we fear judgment. Again, this instinct is fine. It’s human. But, sometimes, (too often), we utilize bad pride to protect us from fears that aren’t nearly as rationale or as likely-to-be-founded as we think.

In the context of this blog, I offer my opinion that bad pride is standing in the way of social progress. I believe, on the part of certain typically older, typically white citizens, that it’s standing in the way of reality. There’s no other way to contextualize the staggering levels of barely-veiled racism, legacy sexism and fear-based selfishness that have burst to the surface of our cultural “dialogue” in recent years, starting with such tragically justified national causes for fear, as exemplified in one way by 9/11 and in another by the dysfunction and injustices revealed by the recession, and reaching a sad crescendo with the election of the country’s first black president, who also happens to disagree with the version of reality currently put forward by some of the rich old white men who own America.

Bad pride has gotten so poisonous, on the part of the more conservative members of our population, that it’s now often weaponized, by those in power way up at the top of our society, such that they can manipulate some of the very victims of their deceit in such a contemptible way as to lead them to help guarantee their own continued imprisonment in an overcranked system that isn’t completely working anymore and which is rigged against many of us. National pride in particular, which was a legitimate badge of honor years ago, on the part of the prideful, has in recent years become that full-blown suit of armor, a protective layer between the reality of the last few lean years and the preceding years of fear-of-attack and pain, and the illusion that everything would be still okay if only our president wasn’t a villainous black man leading a liberal army dead set on trying to take away what makes our country great.

Do you know what happens when something that’s meant to be a symbol (a badge) gets turned into armor (a defensive layer of “impenetrable” material between us and the world)? The first and most obvious thing that happens is that you become actually separated from the world, and all its beauty, along with all the supposed ugliness you’re avoiding. The second thing is that you become slow. Unable to keep up. Because you are weighed down by the burden of your defenses. You better hope you’re satisfied with the way things are, because you’re not getting anywhere new very quickly anytime soon – even if your surroundings later change in ways that aren’t too your liking. The road to a better place starts and ends with our ability to maintain that which preceded us, so that others might follow and help us continue to pave the way forward.

The last things that happens, when bad pride gets bombarded by ideas steeped (no matter how subtly) in hate, is that pride gets turned into something worse than an impediment against progress, as the armor which once was a badge gets melted down in the crucible of anger and repurposed on your behalf by those who stand to benefit directly from the ability of your pride and your hate to keep things the same. In this way, bad pride is made into barbs for perforating both progress and decency.

The strange and difficult thing about all this is that we do need (good) pride if we are ever going to be able to deliver ourselves to a place of justice and freedom.

What do most of us do most days, other than make the (probably automatic) decision to get up, get dressed, and go out into the world, with the goal of trading in our freedom – most basically described as our ability to chose to do “whatever we want” – and do “our job” instead? How many of us can say that it’s as simple as that? Don’t most of us in America, here and now, more often live to work, putting our livelihood ahead of our life, than work to live, putting our life ahead of simple employment – which is supposed to be a means of securing a decent life butis increasingly more like something we just have to do?

What happens to our pride, with our relationship between work and life so unnaturally reversed? What happens when we trade in our right to live – and I’m purposefully borrowing this phrase – for the right to work? Have we forgotten, in all the years of broken promises, of giving a little more, a little more, a little more, of growing increasingly cynical and dejected and beaten each time we give and receive little in return, that we own as much of what we do with our freedom as those who take it in exchange for an increasingly smaller percentage of money?

I would argue that good pride needs to re-enter the equation of our daily lives. I would argue that more citizens are beaten down, or angry or depressed – than are actually, presently, legitimately proud to be a part of the American work force.

For all the mistakes we’ve made as a nation, this was one thing we used to get right. But the reality of the present is staring us in the face, wearing the truly impenetrable armor of fact, of cold, hard statistics. The rich in America are richer than they’ve ever been. They didn’t all get that way only by working. They didn’t all get that way honestly.

So what do we do?

How about we take some responsibility for a situation that, whether we knew it or not while it was developing, we helped create?

How about we talk about these injustices instead of letting the wealthy and their minions continue to push a narrative that says anything else?

How about we figure out how to fight back? The sum of mankind’s knowledge is available for cheap on the internet. Your friends and neighbors are in the same boat as you. Even as so many members of “the elite” continue to sit on their spoils, ordering the politicians who are in their pockets to start lighting meaningless fires to distract us from the fact that entire neighborhoods are sinking into the ground, so many of us continue to idle, sinking under the weight of our bad pride, of so much useless armor.

How about we shed all the fucking armor and start talking to each other about what needs to be fixed? How about we start crawling our way back to a place where we can hold our heads up with fucking pride?

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