AROUTIOUNIAN: Where’s your pride, Yale?

Johnny Come Lately
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Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

You don’t really hear the word “pride” much in conversations in the dining halls. Sure, through late night conversations, we often know what makes our close friends proud or embarrassed. But even though Yale is very much a community made up of a lot groups with distinct identities, it’s rare to hear someone speak of their pride in belonging to that group.

John Aroutiounian_Karen Tian2So I decided to conduct a little study. I asked 10 good friends — people whose preferences, personalities and backgrounds I knew pretty well — to name five things that made them proud. No other instructions — not “the most proud,” not “secretly proud,” no specifics about whether they had to stick to certain categories. Just whatever came to mind that they were willing to share.

When finished, I had results from people of different genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, levels of religiosity and socioeconomic backgrounds. Being Yalies certainly counted against maximal diversity but I wasn’t exactly planning to publish the results in a psychology journal. Moreover, their proximity to me as friends meant I knew certain things about all of them that studies and reports usually don’t provide. All 10 are very trustworthy, principled, thoughtful, kind and altruistic.

The results? First, the obvious: We’re all proud of ourselves in one way or another. Some are proud of being able to successfully lead others, and in the ways they’ve improved as people. We’re proud of being independent, of sticking to our principles, of getting fancy jobs, of doing excellent work, of meeting our parents’ expectations, of being cosmopolitan, of looking good, of going to Yale. One friend was proud of making the English national swim team, after five hours of daily training and a two-hour subway commute. Another was proud to be someone who friends trusted to lean on in moments of need: “It’s really important to me to be a person who others feel is there for them.”

But then it becomes more complicated. A handful of interviewees mentioned they were proud of their family: of parents that were hardworking, self-sacrificing and honest, of a sibling trying hard, of “home” for everything and everyone it represents, for “my grandfather, a 13-year old Italian immigrant who didn’t know a word of English and who spent all of his working years in a factory earning and saving money for his family.” A handful also mentioned friends for their accomplishments and important moments they’ve shared together.

And now we get to the more unusual sources of pride. “I’m proud of my country,” a friend said. “I think America gets a bad rap at Yale. We make mistakes — of hubris and of ignorance — but there really is no greater force for good in the world than America.” Another said her “connection to all of the people who came before me” gave her a strong sense of identity. Fewer still said faith; one friend was proud of the missionaries involved in relief work worldwide, and another of people who keep their Catholic faith alive and stick to its principles (even in a difficult environment, as Yale can often be). Only two people mentioned the military, and both came from military backgrounds.

So here come the sweeping generalizations. A sizeable chunk of people only mentioned things related to themselves or those immediately around them. But this didn’t signify selfishness at all: People are increasingly proud of fewer kinds of things, because community, faith and nation can seem close or irrelevant based on what you choose to believe and how strong of a connection you feel. Dislocation or alienation from these categories is common, and it often limits the experience of pride to the immediate. You put your pride in things that you feel a part of or that are close to you. Whether America, for instance, feels close to you depends both on you and the circumstances you grew up in. This raises interesting questions of policy and leadership. For example, how would the fact that a leader never had a close friend or neighbor in the military while young impact her judgment? It’s one of many questions people wanting to go into leadership should be self-conscious about.

A final observation: Pride is, in many ways, a luxury. It helps anchor identity, establish life priorities and can provide a sense of transcendence. And not everyone is lucky to have role models in people or larger institutions that make them feel proud. For those that do, diversity in pride should be cherished and developed. It starts with the inner self, for a firm sense of basic dignity. But to feel — no, to be — part of something larger, it’s got to end outside of it.

John Aroutiounian is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at john.aroutiounian@yale.edu .

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