By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 11, 2023

One way to learn about people is to find out what they are most proud of. If it’s not their own achievements, it will sometimes be those of their children or grandchildren. And just what counts as an “achievement?” For better or worse, it is often a matter of excelling over others, in which case, for somebody to be a winner, somebody else must be a loser – or at least an also-ran.

But pride itself can be a questionable characteristic. Proverbially, it is said to come (or go) before a fall. In other words (I suppose), you shouldn’t be too proud of anything, because whatever it is can be taken away from you. Nevertheless, today we have a sort of reverse pride, in which groups now celebrate what they were once condemned for being, e.g. “Gay Pride.”

In my school days, I knew that one thing (possibly the only thing) I could do to make my parents proud of me was to get good grades from my teachers. This wasn’t hard for me when we lived in Washington, D.C. for five years during World War II, because I was a bright kid. But, when the war was over, and we had to go back to our “home” country of England, which I could hardly remember, I found myself at a disadvantage compared with my classmates, who were years ahead of me in some subjects. This led to my committing an act more commonly associated with shame than with pride. I became a forger.

The first school report I received at my new school, which I was supposed to take home and have signed by a parent, then bring back, was, by my own standards, so bad that (after considerable practice) I forged my mother’s signature on it. However, I wasn’t as skillful at concealing evidence as I was at committing the crime. My parents discovered the document, which I had carelessly left lying about before returning it to the school. This clearly produced some mixed feelings on their part. They could understand why I did what I did. But of course, they were compelled to insist that honesty is the best policy, and I had to make some kind of confession and apology to the Headmaster. Happily, my subsequent reports were much more favorable.

If I had to say, in return, what there was about my parents that I was proud of, it wouldn’t be easy. My mother did have an enviable quality, which unfortunately I did not inherit, of gregariousness and sociability. Wherever she went she seemed able to strike up new friendships very quickly. My father’s outstanding trait was being neat and orderly, which probably stemmed at least partly from his lifelong career as a British government worker, or
“civil servant.”

But, apart from the personal pride of individuals, there is also the matter of being proud of the place where you live, which we might call Civic Pride. Every town in America, however small it may be, seems to have a boastful slogan, perhaps dreamed up by somebody in the Chamber of Commerce. For example, Apex, North Carolina, calls itself “The Peak of Good Living.” Hico, Texas is the town “Where Everybody is Somebody.” And capitalizing on a natural feature, Coachella, California, is the “City of Eternal Sunshine.”

And what are countries proud of? The Dutch take pride in the fact that much of their territory was made by man, pumping out the sea water, and keeping it out with dikes and dams. The French rejoice in their wines and cheeses. One of their leaders is said to have remarked, “How can one govern a country which has three hundred different kinds of cheese?”

The British used to be proud of their Empire, which has somehow dissolved in my lifetime. At school we sang a song which included the lines:

“Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves!

Britons never never never shall be slaves.”

I was very young when I learned this, and somehow didn’t understand the “slaves” part at all. To my ears, the word sounded like “saved,” which was how I sang it. I couldn’t fathom why these people should be proud of never being saved, but it seemed to say something about their rugged character.

And what am I personally most proud of? It would probably have to be my publishing of ten thousand original epigrams – and at that point going no further. To me, that itself was my proudest accomplishment: knowing when to stop.  


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