June 02, 2004

Misplaced Pride

I'm not proud to be an American.

Don't get me wrong. I haven't gone all Euro. I'm not ashamed to be an American, either. I just am an American.

I didn't have any choice in the matter. By Divine Providence, my father is an American citizen and my mother is an American citizen. That either of them is a citizen is enough to confer that to me. It is not based on anything I've accomplished.

To be proud of one's accomplishments shows a lack of humilty. To be proud of the accidents of one's birth shows a lack of intelligence. I'm no more proud to be an American that I am proud to be a Christian. Even though as an Orthodox Christian I believe in more synergism (that I participate with God in working out my salvation with fear and trembling) than I did in my monergistic Calvinist days, my salvation is not my accomplishment.

When I think of the veterans assembling even now in the coastal towns and villages of Normandy, I am proud of what they accomplished 60 years ago in ridding the world of the Third Reich. Yet as I see them interviewed from time to time, they are not bursting with pride at what they did. I have yet to see one stand up and say, "I'm a hero!" Yet the leaders of many nations will gather together on Sunday to honour them. But it is not because they are Americans, or Brits or Canadians - it is because they served and gave of themselves.

Posted by david at June 2, 2004 12:34 AM | TrackBack

I wish there were a word that didn't have the negative connotations of "pride."

We need a word that means, "America is where I'm from. I have a commitment to its future and a connection with its past. If you like Americans, I'll try to live up to your expectations. If you hate Americans, then you hate me, too."

Notice that you can take out "America" and put in any country, region, ethnic group. It's not aggressive or threatening; it doesn't make any invidious distinctions.

What's the word for that?

Posted by: Jan Bear at June 4, 2004 03:00 PM

I agree there needs to be another word, and I'm not sure what it is. But I do think there needs to be another attitude from the one I see so often displayed. That attitude is a little aggressive and a bit haughty. It's an I'm-better-than-you (and a collective we're-better-than-you) sort of thing.

It's an attitude that is more easily detected after having lived outside the US for five years. And more than imperial geo-politics, I think it is the thing that Europeans find most irritating about Americans.

Posted by: Dave at June 4, 2004 04:29 PM

I saw it too, in Moscow in 1995, and at that time I was ashamed to be an American, because the "Moi machina bolshoi!" boast (my car is big, in bad grammar) seemed to epitomize what we stood for.

I've changed since then, but I wonder how much of it is what people are looking for. The quiet, dignified, thoughtful Americans don't say such things, and so nobody notices them. Some of the loud, egotistical jerks win major European awards. Are the French, English, Germans, Japanese, etc., equally embarrassed about their arrogant (not all, but a proportion) ambassadors?

There's also the difference in communication styles. Americans, because of their mobility and lack of community cohesion, have to be more direct in their communications. More stable communities have more indirect communications. Direct communicators find indirect communicators irirtatingly unclear. Direct communicators appear brash to indirect communicators.

Posted by: Jan Bear at June 4, 2004 04:44 PM

I agree with what you say, Jan. I still think there is a type of patriotism unique - at least in this day and time - to America and Americans. I'm surer there are quiet, dignified Americans who don't think that being American so how makes them superior.

And I don't doubt that there are elements of this in some French and Germans., but I think it has become part of the ethos of American patriotism.

Posted by: Dave at June 4, 2004 10:20 PM