Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - What Should We Be Proud Of?
by Tibor R. Machan

In our local paper it’s big news and I don’t like it. I am talking about how Santa Ana mayor Miguel Pulido, who moved to Orange County from Mexico City, is proud of his heritage. He tells it up front: "I am very proud of my heritage and my background," although he adds that "sometimes it is misunderstood."

In fact, although Pulido isn’t gung ho about his hailing from Mexico, it is noted about him that when someone in school called him "Mike," he insisted on being called "Miguel." OK, you are the boss about your name—I myself have fully manufactured the pronunciation of my last name, but for opposite reasons. I wanted to become an American as much as I could, without wishing at all to hide where I came from. (So "Machan," while sounding nothing like it in Hungarian, now sounds "McCann" in English, whereas "Tibor" is out and out Hungarian.)

But why the fuss? Well, I am always hoping people will take language seriously and "being proud of something" very much suggests that you had something to do with bringing it about. Like the firm you built or painting you created or novel you wrote—provided, indeed, that they have merit, are worthy achievements.

But what then about such expressions as, "I am very proud of my daughter’s achievements"? Well, yes, what about them?

Here the trick is that many parents firmly believe they mold their children into who they are, especially when they turn out to be pretty good people. But is this really a good idea? Are our children fashioned by us? Are they our creations, like one of our paintings or poems? Are they sculpted by us?

I am very hesitant to sanction this kind of understanding of parenting, including my own. Sure, parents do have an influence on their kids, good and bad. But that goes only so far. It is a distinctive attribute of human beings that they are substantially self-made. They have free will, and within certain limits they take over their own development pretty early in their lives. Parents know this only too well, as they often observe their own offspring turning out to be very different from what they had hoped and worked for them to become. No doubt, there are all sorts of subtle influences they do exert, probably mainly by setting an example for how to be a human being, for good or for ill. But in time even that is largely up to the child, whether to pay attention to the parents’ way of doing things or to, say, some rock or movie star’s. Or they will become captivated—an interesting term(!)—by a scientist, an accountant or drug dealer. It is all really not very predictable and that is, indeed, what makes human beings so interesting and scary—you never quite know what they will choose to do and be.

So, the expression "I am very proud of you" is a bit fishy. Perhaps it should be rephrased to "I am very glad about how you turned our or who you have chosen to become." A mouthful but more to the point, I think.

So what about being proud of "my heritage and my background"? I, for instance, was born and raised in Hungary and my background includes two fanatical athletic parents, one of whom happened to be an avid supporter of the Nazis and a virulent anti-Semite.

Now, I suppose if the mayor should be proud of his heritage, I ought to be ashamed of at least part of mine. But that’s nonsense—I feel absolutely no shame for my father’s vices, nor for the virtues of my mother or grandparents, whatever they were. Fact is, we can, strictly speaking, only be proud of what we have done, of who we are not what we are. I am a male, Caucasian, hailing from Hungary, 6’ 2", etc.. None of this is anything I am or should be proud of. I like some of it, yes—some of what I picked up from Hungary, like their cooking, the gypsy music they played a lot, and many more subtle things I am pleased about. But then I "picked up" a lot of stuff since then—the blues, jazz, the English novel, American court room drama and you name it—but none of it is anything I achieved, so none of it makes or should make me proud. What makes me proud has to do with whatever worthy stuff I have created, achieved, that’s all. Same with what I feel shame for, my own failings.

I do think if we stuck to this for what we are proud and ashamed of, we could come closer to avoiding all that ethnic and racial pride and hatred that has wrought such hell on earth upon the human race.
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