Thursday, February 10, 2011


I remain puzzled about people taking 'pride in being xyz', or about people saying, 'proud to be xyz'. Some of these pride taking activities are obviously not unreasonable and they are indeed understandable. These types of activities pertain to be people taking pride in things that they can take credit for. Say Usain Bolt has reason to be proud of his world record demonstrating that he currently runs faster in circles than other people who also would like to run faster in circle than anyone else in the world. Bolt can't reasonably take credit for bodily features that permit him to compete, provided he trains properly. He can take pride in training very hard and disciplined in order to do the circle run faster than anyone else in the world. So, my view is that pride taking requires some conscious deliberate activity on our part aimed at achieving a certain thing that we would like to achieve. When we have achieved this thing, we take pride in that achievement.

So, here's my puzzlement then. Lots of people take pride in things that they couldn't help one way or another. People take pride in being of one skin color or another, they take pride in being gay, disabled, tall, short etc etc. None of these things, surely, lend themselves to pride taking activities. After all, if you're black you are black you are black, and nothing (save some idiotic skin bleaching exercises) is going to change that. If you're tall, you're tall, you're tall, and nothing  (save some idiotic leg cutting exercises) is going to change this. Same for sexual orientation. Given that most, if not all, people do not make a considered choice to be asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual or whatever sexual, how can any of us sensibly take pride in being of a particular sexual orientation? At best we can take pride in making a considered choice to be good about who we are as opposed to being in denial.

One of my facebook friends said that she is proud of the Egyptian revolutionaries that are bent on kicking their dictator out. Now, how can she be proud of something that she had no hand in? Makes little sense, or does it? Have the people in Egypt who took risks during this revolution have every reason to take pride in their bravery. Arguably they have a case to be proud. Has someone who cheered them on from a comfy living room in Canada (supporting them on facebook or tweeting busily revolutionary slogans) reason to take pride in anything that has been achieved in Egypt? Surely not.

Over to you, would we not be better off if people stopped taking pride in things that they can't reasonably take credit for? Perhaps I have missed something in the concept of pride, so do not hesitate to comment and get back at me if you think so.


  1. At least in English, "pride" denotes a somewhat multi-faceted concept. It does not violate English language norms to say that you're proud of being something you had no choice in (e.g. proud to be an American, or whatever), or being proud of somebody else who did something you had no influence on (your facebook example). In the first case, it seems to mean something like accepting as positive a certain aspect of your identity (whether your choices influenced this or not), and in the latter case it expresses significant approval. The confusion on your part might be because the German concept of Stolz is used more restrictively (I'm no longer familiar with the details of the modern use of the word in German, so I'm not actually sure this is the case).

  2. To actually respond to your question, I do think it would be better if there were a word that exclusively referred to having a positive view of some aspect of one's identity that one's choices were responsible for. But actual usage of "pride" in English does not support this, unfortunately.

  3. Let's see: if it is possible for one to say, thinking of World War II, "I'm ashamed to be a German" (even if the events were beyond one's control), why wouldn't it be reasonable to say, thinking of Hilbert and Klein, "I'm proud to be a German?"

  4. Good point Jeffrey! My view would be that it wouldn't make much sense to be ashamed to be German because of crimes one's grandparents might have been involved in, at least unless certain conditions were met. Shame would be reasonable if one is a beneficiary of said grandparents' crimes, one knows about that, and one does nothing to remedy the situation. Surely, if my parents were Nazis, but I didn't benefit from that in any way, it's unclear how I could meaningfully be ashamed of something they did, as opposed to something that I am responsible for. This is not to say that people might not feel ashamed for their family background, but it doesn't seem to make much sense to me.


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