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
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.