Among the many qualities a person can have, and emotions they can muster, pride must be among the most fascinating. Like appreciation and conflict, it has the potential to be both destructive and constructive.

We see it a lot these days, from politicians who exclaim their pride for their country and people, commonly known as populists, to civil rights movements of every kind. I mean, from the gun lobby, advertising with its proud gun owners, to gay pride, straight pride, black pride, white pride, hispanic pride… the list is virtually endless and all types of pride are shown as a good thing. But is it? Are these prides even warranted?

What is Pride?

Among other uses, pride is defined as: pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself. This is significant for us, because we need a basis upon which to decide whether the different types of pride are really warranted, or that they are just arbitrarily picked subjects shown in a favourable light. So lets examine this definition.

It shows us that pleasure or satisfaction must be exhibited regarding the subject of pride we are discussing. Next, we get a whole lot of “ors”. It is important to keep these separated neatly, lest we get confused. Something that is done by oneself or believed by oneself or believed to reflect positively upon oneself. These are the only expectations to be met and they are as such final.

Pride is, as I mentioned above, a fascinating subject. Administered in little relevant doses it can build a person up from their greatest depths, make them feel appreciated, worthy, admired and needed. It can make the beggar feel like a king, the slave like a worker. An individual person with balanced pride, can make fun of himself, while taking himself seriously. They can decide someone else to be more important, without it affecting their own self-worth. In short, it may make one a well-rounded person, someone to be admired.

But when administered in greater, more irrelevant doses, pride becomes destructive and even dangerous, fuelling hubris, arrogance and loathing. It is, after all, no secret that many atrocities have been at least in part fuelled by pride. The many instances, for example, of Russian nationalist violence are as countless as they are brutal. But the same goes for German, French and American nationalism. All of them in the very least fuelled partly by pride. In short, it may make one an unstable, petty and vindictive person, someone to be feared.

Like I said, a fascinating subject. It seems, at the face of it, to resemble an addiction to hard drugs; we have the frequent user on one hand. Who retains his balanced composure and can afford to miss a hit, but still needs it every once in a while. Then there is the full-on addict who craves his hits like they are the air he breathes and experiences every bit that’s missing as a personal theft. Of course, this is magnifying the issue to a rather large extent, but I believe this to be necessary in order to discuss a matter so densely populated by grey areas.

The Flip Side

When I was younger, about 15 years of age, My father told me: “Son, everything in this world has at least one flip side.” Thus far, I have discovered this to hold up. So, what is the flip side of pride?

It seems that pride is often tied into some bigger group of people who fit the same nomer. Whether it’s gay pride, national pride or black pride. This then goes on to strengthen the ties within that particular group of people. For instance, I used to be a goth kid. And though I was a shy little man, I always identified more with fellow goths than anyone else, because I genuinely believed that goths were better people. This is the use many advertisers hope to use to get people to buy their products and it is also the same kind of pride civil rights organisations of every kind hope to use to get unwavering support from its benefactors.

And almost immediately, we notice a flip side to group pride. Unity. As many instances teach us, unity all too often means a common enemy. Many of us have been taught that this works the other way around; that having a common enemy will bring unity. And while this is true, it is often taught one dimensionally, while the reverse may also be true; that unity within a group gives rise to a common enemy, which then goes on to strengthen the unity. In other words, the pride that many people have may lead to them to exclude them from their activities, to mistrust them and possibly abuse them, simply because they are “the other”.

And just like that, we’ve found another flip side to group pride. front formation. This may not seem to a problem at first, but it leads to a group having a more intimidating exterior, deterring any scrutiny and closing them down for criticism. This is potentially dangerous, as the members of such a group might start becoming increasingly alienated to the world outside their group. This is for instance very clear in the many reports of cult victims, often directly tying their pride in their path of life to dismissing criticism of their cult.

Before we go to the flip side of individual pride, there is one that is applicable to both; the need for people to keep their pride in tact or to restore it when lost. Many people go to extreme lengths to keep their pride in tact. Whether it’s choosing to ignore facts, deny facts or to apply varying degrees of cognitive dissonance, almost all of these things contribute to increasing irrational belief, which in turn may lead to irrational behaviour.

The problems with individual pride, are mostly the same to that of group pride, to start with.

The first would be; Arrogance. A person who feels a lot of pride, will be a more arrogant person. This also applies to subject-specific pride, like we are speaking of here, only the pride would of course only apply to that field. Though it is not uncommon for a person to take his debating prowess for instance to mean for them that they are intelligent, in which case the pride in debating skills would be included in a greater pride of their greater intellect. This arrogance would then risk going to be used to marginalize peers in that same setting. The debaters among us may already have reminiscent feelings and thoughts of the countless times they were called stupid by someones who otherwise has great debating skills. In other cases, the arrogance might not surface, but rather be replaced by hubris, making the subject careless in their actions, because they know they are “that good”.

The second, would be intimidation. We are used, perhaps by media, perhaps by our own insecurity, to our heroes being reserved and unavailable. This is why people with too much pride often show themselves to be more reserved toward others. Almost never really unavailable, but mostly reserved, giving the other the feeling they are unworthy of such highly regarded audience. This intimidates anyone that may need or want to approach these people, which will soon feel like a futile effort and will result, for both involved, in a missed opportunity.

 Examination of different forms of group pride

National pride:

 National pride is a phenomenon that most of us will be familiar with. People feel pride regarding their culture, government policies, demographic makeup etc. This is a form of pride politicians often try to appeal to, pandering to their audience. This pride can be found in smaller amounts in the country, depending on scale. Many countries for instance, have a certain pride that happens in different regions, provinces, or cities. This area-pride, for lack of a better term, is most commonly observable at sports events, like national pride is with international sports events.

There is a sort of beauty that comes with this pride, as it seems to have a fraternizing effect on those subject to it. Having experienced it myself when I was younger while subject to a turbulent period of puberty, I can testify to having a good night with one of my biggest enemies at that point, only because we met in a bare and watched our country play a soccer match. But you don’t have to take my word for it. After all, anecdote isn’t evidence, right? Luckily, we are surrounded in this day and age by populism. From le Pen in France, Wilders here in the Netherlands, Johnson in the UK and Trump in the US, we have ample testing grounds, and that’s not even naming half of them. What we see in all of these politicians, is that their supporters become more like a fan base, a cult of personality. They are willing to forgive them their missteps, because they “speak for the people”. This is abundantly clear when we look at Trump, as he has held approximately every policy position one can hold, and he is still going strong and his supporters have not changed their tone.

Aside from this originating brotherhood and support, we need only to look at the same Donald Trump to witness the aforementioned flip side of group pride, we called front formation. It has happened at least 5 times that I had the displeasure of watching videos of trump campaign riots. Now of course, these instances are not just related to front formation, but have also been fuelled by a fairly aggressive speaker, the physical discomfort o being within a mass and the psychological comfort of that same mass. You can read more about this here:

For the same, one need only open the index of a history textbook and search for the word ‘nationalism’ to find countless atrocities commited in the name of national pride. This kind of pride meets two distinct problems when investigated, though. The first is that in the earlier mentioned cases of sports and other recreational events, it is more or less harmless, save hooligans (who mostly target each other, anyway). The second is that it barely ever goes unaccompanied. Most times when destructive national pride is observed, it has been observed with present feelings of racial superiority, political events, policy differences (like we see all over the EU with the refugee crisis, for instance) or populism.

Religious pride:

Religious pride spells itself out by its own name; people feel a sense of pride for being an adherent to a certain set of rules and regulations, often giving these rules and regulations the attribute of increasing a persons morality or being decisive for one’s moral fibre. Like national pride, religious pride is a subject for appeal to many politicians. This is clear when we look at political discourse all over the world, but specifically in the US and the middle east. This pride mostly follows clear lines of major religion, all the way down to minority denominations.

While religious pride, like national pride, has the ability to fraternize otherwise hostile groups, there is much ado about whether or not it causes more or less conflict in the world. This is because of the potential religion has. Religion, if it is/were true, has the potential to unify the entire world. If it isn’t true, it has the potential to fragment it. The problem here is that many (almost all) religions can’t be unified. Where one religion says we should pray daily, others say weekly and still others say several times a day. Where one religion forbids you to eat beef, the other stimulates you eating beef. Where one condones violence, the other forbids it. This means that, in practice, religious pride tends to cause more conflict than it resolves.

It is here, contrary to popular belief, not so much the religion itself that causes the problems as it is the pride people have in the religion they follow. If there wasn’t any pride involved in this, people wouldn’t care too much that their scripture was either being violated or not abided by in daily life.

What can we learn from pride?

Pride teaches us that every idea has a certain value to it, that every idea and every person has its merits. It does so by showing us that every person has his pride and prideworthy attributes, regardless their ideas and their appearances. This means that everything we know has an element in it that could be considered praiseworthy, however small it is. We can vehemently disagree with, for instance, Islam. But we can agree that somewhere within its teachings lie valuable ideas; whether it be the zakkat (the giving to charity) or martyrdom (dying for an idea) that you consider valuable.

However, value is a very subjective lesson. Perhaps that is the most valuable lesson here; that everything of value simultaneously has no value and all possible value.

But the most important of the lessons we have learned today, is the one that says we must be careful with our pride and where we locate it. That the ideas we value may actually not be as valuable as we perceive them to be and that we should only be proud for those things that merit our pride such as achievements, parts of our character and the achievements of others in our name. We shouldn’t, on the other hand, place our pride in abstracts or identities. For not only is it the path to folly, it is dangerous at that!