Pride is a trait that can easily be confused with arrogance. Growing up, the Biblical proverb, “Pride goes before a fall,” was often repeated to me, along with a slew of other warnings against being braggadocious. I was well-versed in the importance of being humble and deferring credit to God as the source of all my strength and ability.
I was allowed to be prideful, but I was only supposed to take pride in my deity, not in myself.
While those days are long behind me, I haven’t stopped thinking about the role of pride in life. When we “take pride” in someone or something, such as our family, our nation, our institutions, or our religions and deities, the personal sense of joy and warmth that wells up inside us is undeniable. Alongside that satisfaction is a strong urge to publicize those aspects of our lives. We fly our flags, take part in our rituals, and we celebrate together. There is an immediate sense of community with other followers.
Humility, while often juxtaposed against pride, is less anti-pride and more pro-gratitude. We choose to be humble in the face of praise because we realize that often it has taken more than our own efforts to elevate ourselves to where we find ourselves in life. Humility is a recognition of our shared humanity.
Shame, I believe, is pride’s true opposite. Whereas shared pride can bring a community together, shame causes individuals to isolate themselves from the group, or causes the group to ostracize individuals. While pride brings celebration and satisfaction, shame brings misery and loneliness. While pride, in its negative form, can cause feelings of superiority, shame nearly always makes people feel inferior to others.
I was inspired to write this article about pride because LGBTQ+ Pride Month just passed. I’ve heard straight people ask why we “need” Pride. I’ve heard people of all races ask why we “need” specific months to recognize different racial groups or different levels of ability.
Here’s my answer: we have pride as an attempted antidote for shame. The shame of being a couple that is the wrong gender or the wrong color pairing and being asked to sleep in separate bedrooms when you visit your childhood home. The shame of visiting the family reunion and having your children be declared illegitimate. The shame you feel when hugging or kissing your partner is considered pornographic, just because of who you both are. The shame of being told that your friends aren’t welcome in the house because they are “wrong.” The shame of feeling forced to hide who you are to keep dinner conversation “pleasant.”
The effects of all this culturally enforced shame on our mental health as individuals can’t be understated. While, in the developed world, things have generally improved for women and minority groups, there are still specific geographical areas in this country and around the world where a marginalized individual’s level of liberty is limited. In the U.S., women’s reproductive rights will be decided state-by-state due to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and some legal analysts believe that gay marriage will be under attack next. There are still many places here in the U.S. where being LGBTQ+, having an “inferior” skin tone, or having a different level of ability, is demonized.
So, when we live in a culture that can sometimes be so hell-bent to suppress who we are, our only answer to that is to celebrate ourselves and our communities, despite everything. When families forsake us, we find our own. When our stories are glossed over in public schools, we call attention to the history of our ancestors by raising awareness publicly. In a country where mental health issues and physical disabilities are still somewhat stigmatized, we fight against harmful stereotypes on a daily basis, sometimes just by existing.
It’s not always easy to live in a hostile environment. It’s even more difficult to do it alone. I could tell you, “Just be proud of yourself, no matter what,” but I believe that the issue is more complicated than that. It’s so hard to feel pride when shame has been drilled into you, often from a young age. It takes time, patience, and support to recover from the negativity and there will certainly be days that are harder than others. All I can say is, “Hang in there!” and invite you to use the following resources if you need encouragement:
The Trevor Project – LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention 1-866-488-7386, or text 678-678 (typed as one number).
National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
The Crisis Textline at 741-741 (typed as one number).
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