Should We be Proud of Our Culture?

The first year in college was the first time in life when we were allowed to use a calculator in class and even during exams. Each of us were happy with our own calculator, but also wanted to test its power against those owned by others. Most of these devices were capable of evaluating finite integrals of trigonometric and polynomial functions and the time taken to complete a calculation depended on its complexity. It was easy (at least by trial and error, adjusting the limits of integration) to come up with a problem that took approximately a couple of minutes to solve on a given calculator. By giving the same problem to two (or more) calculators at the same instant, we determined whose calculator was faster. The owner of the faster calculator usually took immense pride in this achievement.
A  CASIO fx-991MS Scientific Calculator, which was one of the stronger contenders
A  CASIO fx-991MS Scientific Calculator, which was one of the stronger contenders
Several had the winning model, and so the winner was determined by more than just the amount of money he was willing to spend on his calculator. It depended on random or uncontrollable variations (within the tolerance limit) in the properties of electronic components that gave the device an edge over others of the same model. In layman’s terms, it was purely a contest of luck. Nevertheless, the winner was proud of his luck. After all, as a character in an anime tells his eternal rival, luck is an essential part of one’s strength. If we look closely, other aspects of strength and ability that people take pride in also owe much to a favourable combination of pedigree and circumstances – in other words, luck.
I recently encountered a question that asked Indians how proud they were of their nationality and culture. Not surprisingly, most responses were on the lines of claiming to be proud only of own achievements, and not of uncontrollable accidents such as being born in a specific country, religion or race. I, however, am as proud of being an Indian as I might be of, say, being a top athlete; because I think considering one as pure chance and the other as something earned by merit is based in ignorance. What goes into the making of a successful athlete? He has to have the gift of a great body, the gift of an inclination towards training hard, the gift of a good trainer, the gift of right opportunities, and the gift of luck on days of important events. How different is it from being born in a great country and being heir to its rich spiritual heritage? If I may be proud of one, why not about the other?
As per my understanding and beliefs, neither the conditions we are born into, nor the good or bad things that happen to us later in life are determined by chance. They are both a result of our own conscious actions in the past – be it in this life or a previous one, and irrespective of whether we are able to see a connection or not. So if we are justified in being proud of what we earn or achieve through our own choices in this life, then we are entitled to a similar pride in our nationality, ethnicity, ancestral wealth and richness of tradition.

This still does tell us whether we should be proud of anything at all, but before we can answer that question, we need to have a clearer understanding of what it means to be proud of something. Of the several meanings that can be found in a dictionary, the one that I find the most universally accepted and consider the most applicable in this case is “feeling pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable or creditable to oneself” (the very first definition from dictionary.com). I feel tremendous pleasure and satisfaction over my nationality and culture because they offer me this wonderful and unique opportunity to fulfill what I consider to be the ultimate purpose of life. This pride follows from realizing the value of this gift, and is the first step towards shouldering the great responsibility of effectively tapping this source of wisdom to make our own lives better, and to pass on its benefits to others who might not have as easy access to it.

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4 thoughts on “Should We be Proud of Our Culture?

  1. rama you started with something agreeable and turned it bit fatalistic. i guess you understand. i understand your chain of thought and thought abt the same before but couldnt arrive or agree to your conclusion. in everyday lives we take conscious decisions which brings tangible results. i agree its not always individual. but ignoring the uncertain individual and his decison is not just. there is a substantial part which means just you. the you irrespective of your cultural religious ethnic geographicl element.

    1. Laju, I do not fully understand your disagreement to the later parts. In fact, I don't think it is fatalistic – rather, my point of view is that all the things that happen to you are because of your own choices (some that you remember and some that you don't). So I would like to understand your objection a little more clearly.

  2. Here is a counter-argument: your conjecture is contingent upon one believing in the concept of Karma. Past actions (which you refer to as the choices that one doesn't remember, in the comment above) determining what happens to you. What happens when one simply rejects that – isn't being born in a country, or to someone, purely coincidental then?

    The definition of pride from dictionary.com that you've quoted says it's pleasure from something highly regarded or creditable to oneself. Who, other than Indians, regard India so highly? And which part of being born in India and to your parents who would like to take credit for? If I may further probe you, does someone who is proud of India (or one's culture), also wake up every morning with pride that they are a part of the Milky Way galaxy? Because, you know, it's the only galaxy that supports human life.

    Here's a hypothesis on why people are proud of things like nationality for your consideration. People often pride themselves on things such as nationality and culture because it helps them feel better about themselves. It gives their ego a strong shoulder to rest on. Perhaps it stems from the difficulty in accepting their own mediocrity and/or lack of triumphs in which they can find the pleasure and solace that you speak of.

    Finally, none of the things that I've said above are meant to demean you. The usage of 'you' anywhere above refers to anyone who is tremendously proud of something that they did not influence.

    1. Deepak, no offence taken on any of your comments, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. In fact, it is because many people feel like you do, that I wanted to convey my views through this post. So let me clarify the points you have raised.

      If a person does not believe in the concept of Karma, clearly there is nothing creditable to oneself in being born in a nation or being part of a culture. For them, like you say, these may be considered things that they did not influence. But my question to them is what else is there that they think they can take credit for . Even achievements which they consider to be "influenced" or hard-earned by them, on a closer look, turn out to be a result of chance-opportunities and chance-abilities. It is to drive home this point that I gave the example of winning an Olympic medal, which many people consider to be highly creditable to the winner. In a discussion on the same, a friend pointed out that Malcom Gladwell, in his book "Outliers", analyses many cases to show how chance events have a decisive role in your luck. At a still deeper level, how come some people have the motivation to work hard and succeed while others don't? To feel everyday, the commitment to a cause is a delicate chemical balance in the body – if one hormone tips the balance, one can get depressed, and stop practicing or working towards his goal. If we disregard the concept of Karma, everything happens by chance – physical and chemical changes over which we have no control determine our abilities and inclination. So what is there to be proud of? If a person has this view and refuses to be proud of anything, I can agree to his view. But if he thinks there are some things that he has influenced, that belief is actually rooted in Karma, the eternal law of causality, or in sheer ignorance

      I also agree with your view that people take pride in different things because it makes them feel good. This is equally true of pride in anything. If I am very proud about securing high marks in my school exams, it is actually a way I convince myself of my self-worth. In case of pride in our nationality and culture – not in a way that makes you feel superior to others – the one benefit I can see, however, is that it can serve as a starting point for us to appreciate the value of this gift, and use its immense wisdom to make ourselves worthy of it.

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