When a bunch of UUs recently got arrested while protesting in Arizona (see Standing on the Side of Love or the UUA for more details), I immediately posted on the Facebook pages of those I know, "I'm proud of you." Meanwhile, over at The Chaliceblog, "Chalicechick" was asking, "I get that people get arrested protesting with differing levels of justification for it. What I don't get is why we're all so proud of ourselves about it. It seems meaningless at best."
It's a good question. Pride is a mixed bag. We have pride in things that we feel good about in ourselves or others, things that were hard to achieve, obstacles that were overcome. And yet we also hear that pride is deadly sin, and pride goeth before a fall.
I've wondered about other people's misplaced "pride" in different things, and I've seen others wondering at pride I or friends of mine have had over different issues. For example: I'm not "proud to be an American." I see the fact that I am American as an accident of birth that I had no particular part in, and so therefore am not proud of it. I'm not proud of being in a family that's been in this country almost since the Mayflower, for the same reason. I am occasionally proud of my country. I was proud of my country yesterday when I participated in our democracy by voting--proud that we continue to have this right and that most are able to freely exercise it.
I've heard people ask about pride in relationship to LGBT Pride, where a whole month is devoted to being proud of being a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person. The White Pride movement often asks the question, "If it's okay to be proud of being gay or being black, why shouldn't we be proud of being white?" The basic answer to this is that I think the pride isn't really in just being who you are, it's in being who you are when you're being told not to be. The pride isn't so much in identity as it is in the overcoming of obstacles related to identity. The pride is being able to be out despite the adversity, to hold your head high when society says you're worthless and believe in your own worth. White Pride has none of these things.
Pride is the "sinful" sort of pride, to me, when it is about those things we were born with and were out of our control--for me, being American, being white. If I were born with money and into a family of vast power, pride in those things would be the "sinful" sort of pride. This sort of pride is the pride where you believe your identity puts you over and better than other people.
Now, back to getting arrested. I think my having pride in these actions is akin to saying, "I believe in the cause that these people were acting on behalf of, and I'm proud of the fact that they acted in conjunction with their values and didn't back down from their beliefs even though it could cause them real harm." I'm not really proud in their being arrested, per se, as much as I am them taking the actions and sticking to them that led to their arrests. And I think one feels pride in the actions of others when one shares a connection--these were people of my faith who did this. Much like I am proud of my daughter when she accomplishes something. In this way, being proud of others is connected to pride in oneself. It's there in the very way we speak of the pride--"I'm proud of my daughter," not something like, "I give to my daughter the pride which she has earned," or even, "I'm proud on behalf of my daughter." Because the pride is displaced one step away from ourselves, however, and usually for an achievement rather than an identity, it's more of an acceptable form of pride than if I were proud of my daughter for her beauty or how many toys she has.
Furthermore, I don't think I would feel pride in people getting arrested for a cause I didn't believe in, or if I thought the getting arrested was due to people acting in an extreme way during the protest for no sound reason. Basically, in order to have the pride in somebody getting arrested, you have to believe in the underlying cause and believe that the person was acting in response to values and beliefs that you share, and doing so in a reasonable way. Reading all the comments at the Chaliceblog, as well as the original post, it's easy to see that the major reason why the pride is in question is because the actions and the motivations for the actions are questionable to people. And, yes, immigration issues in Arizona are not as clear-cut to many as the voting rights of the 60s. If I were to say, "I'm proud [as a relative, colleague, or friend] of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the actions he took in Birmingham and his willingness to spend his time in the Birmingham Jail as a result of them," I don't think there would be as much question around it. History has judged and found MLK to be right in his stance.
Were the actions of those who got arrested in Arizona both reasonable and even courageous? Or was it "meaningless at best"? History will be the judge of this, as well. Despite the successes of the 60s, one lasting effect has been a sort of jaded view of any actions of protest since them. Is this sort of protest meaningless and ineffective by its very nature? Is it only worthwhile if a sizable percentage of the population joins you in it? It's the very sort of questions we were asking as we went into the General Assembly this year about the efficacy of boycott. I still believe in these tried-and-true methods of creating social change, even though it's arguable that we see less and less result from social action. Certainly the Bush years, in my experience of them, were testament to the fact that even if a huge percentage of the population is against your actions, if you have the power you need not listen or care.
Meanwhile, I do feel pride in my colleagues and the people of our faith who went down to Arizona and stood firm in their values--those who were arrested, but also those who weren't.