Monday, March 28, 2016

“A Man’s Got to Defend His Honor”

The title is a quotation from Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  That part of the story goes on to tell how one man murdered another outside a bar for insulting his mother.

I’ve written before about the two different kinds of pride.  The first is pride of accomplishment and the second is just some feeling of superiority, based usually on circumstances beyond our control.

Some people are proud of what they have done.  There is pride of winning a medal in the Olympics or pride about improving school grades or pride about finishing a critical project on time or closing a key account.  This is the first kind of pride and fits a definition of “a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure from accomplishment or for displaying admirable personal qualities.”

On the other hand, some people are proud of the fact that their ancestors lived in Ireland (or some other specific country) or that they are a member by default of a particular group or race (Hispanic or left-handed).  They seem to have developed a high opinion of themselves based on some characteristic that is completely beyond their control.  On the surface this seems pretty silly.  It’s like saying, “I’m so proud of my sister; she won the lottery.”  It’s just luck, winning the lottery or being born to certain parents.  This kind of pride sometimes comes out when talking about your school or what kind of car or truck you drive, or sometimes other controllable but not very significant things.  It is almost a tribalism where we are able to define an in-group contrasted with all the out-groups of different tastes or loyalties.

The upside to this second pride may be a feeling of confidence, motivation to live up to the admirable qualities of the group one associates himself with.  But even this smacks of stereotyping and could lead to a deeper prejudice, a false feeling of superiority based on nothing but an accident of birth or some concept of team or school spirit.

The downside of this second pride is much deeper and much more troublesome.  It leads to a kind of sensitivity or touchiness where any perceived slight, intentional or not, is immediately interpreted as an insult, an act of disrespect that must be avenged.  It comes not from real achievement, but from an ego-driven, false sense of importance.  Make a remark about someone from Ireland or the Irish (or any other country or nationality) or some school, my brand of truck, my favorite team or any of a number of other sensitive subjects and be ready for a fight, often a physical confrontation.

This came to mind a few weeks ago when I saw the news of an incident in a local bar involving two old-enough-to-be-mature men.  “John Williams was asked to leave the Ben Hur Tavern on S. Fourth Street.  He returned a short time later with his brother Richard Williams.  They “entered the bar waving around knives and threatening other patrons” and were subsequently arrested.

Understanding how this second kind of pride leads to trouble makes it easy to spot in the national news.  One widely publicized example occurred in Texas a few months ago when rival motorcycle gangs got together and bullets began to fly.

It doesn’t have to be motorcycle gangs or local drunks, though.  This kind of reaction is common, leading not only to individual acts but to large scale demonstrations and protest.  Relying on this kind of pride is an easy way to get non-thinking people stirred up.  It happens more frequently than most people imagine.  Now that you are aware, I think you will see this more clearly.

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