Proud to be from Texas. Proud to live in the greatest city on earth (fill in the name of city). Proud to be white. Proud to be a man, but proud to be a woman. Proud to be Irish, Black, Hispanic, Polish, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Christian, Hindu, Muslim … any religious affiliation, ethnicity, or nationality will serve. Why? What makes you proud to be something that was an accident of birth? Are you proud to be alive? Human? Proud you aren’t dead of disease, starvation, natural disaster, or war?
I am not proud to be an American. I certainly am glad to be an American, happy that I am free to live in a beautiful place and have a home in this valley. I love the United States. I think it’s fundamentally a great nation which, if we stopped screwing around, would be an even greater one. But proud?
I’m proud of things I’ve written, some things I’ve done, and ashamed of others. I’m proud of what I’ve earned. I’m not proud of the gifts I was given at birth, but I am deeply grateful that I was lucky enough to receive them.
I am proud of my country’s achievements, but ashamed and embarrassed by other things we’ve done. I believe our Constitution is one of the finest legal documents ever written anywhere at any time. That we so often fail to live up to it saddens me, but at least we had founders who weren’t airheads or mass murderers, a burden other nations bear.
Pride implies you actively participated or contributed to whatever makes you proud. I don’t think being born qualifies. If you exist, you were born (not counting Jesus and other less popular deities). Birth gets you get a ticket to stand at the starting line and a chance to run. To breathe air. After that, it’s up to you. What you do by the time your life concludes may or may not confer any right to be proud.
So I’m glad to be an American. I’m happy I was born here and not in Sarajevo or Beijing. But I didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t a choice I made. Nothing was required of me. My mother’s pregnancy occurred here and not somewhere else. If she had been Mexican or Turkish? Then, by current jingoistic ethnocentric guidelines, I’d surely be proud to be Turkish or Mexican.
Borders are lines on a map. There are no substantive differences except those imposed by tradition and politicians who live on one side or the other of an invisible, artificial, politically driven boundary. If you live on the border of another country, you are no doubt aware the only reason you are who you are is luck. For that matter, your social status, your class, religion, ethnicity, level of wealth of poverty … all dumb luck. You aren’t special because you were born to a family that is rich, white, Christian, Republican or anything else. You are not defined by who your parents were, nor by their traditions, religion, politics, or social status. The life you live will define you. The choices you make, the work you do, the way you treat the rest of God’s creatures along your path … these determine your character.
The only thing that you could legitimately take pride in is the good you do and if you are either Jewish or Christian, even that is wrong and lessens the value of the righteous acts you perform. Charity performed anonymously is of far greater value than anything for which you get recognition or rewards.
Being righteous isn’t special. It’s what you are supposed to do. That’s why you have a conscience and free will. Whatever you got or didn’t get when you were born determines where you stand as the race begins, but you define who you are at the finish.
What you do in this world may perhaps be something to take pride in. Where and what you were at your birth are not.
Does that make me unpatriotic? I don’t think so, but others will disagree. I think patriotism and love of country needs to be tempered by intelligence and the realization that nations, like people, don’t always do the right thing. When nations are better than they need to be … or worse than they should be … you are free to judge them as you would a person who does well or badly. Judge your homeland on its merits, not because an accident of birth dropped you there.
I know this isn’t a popular point of view or one that everyone will understand, but if you get it, spread it around. Nations don’t deserve a free pass for bad behavior. You don’t get a free pass for bad behavior, do you? Unless you are super rich, in which case you get to do whatever you want and count on your lawyers to take care of the fallout.
Most of us are not super rich or even sort of rich. A lot of us are glad if we break even at the end of the month. We have to deal with the consequences of our behavior. Being “a product of your times or environment” is not an excuse for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, or cruelty. It has never been okay to mistreat fellow creatures because they aren’t like you or because you grew up in a world that despises them. You aren’t special by reason of birth. You just think you are.
Ask God. Ask yourself. Look in a mirror. What have you done to deserve the air you breathe?