Taking pride

I was tagged with the 10 Things I Would Never Do meme this week. It’s a strange little thing, and the temptation is to extol what I see as my virtues. However, there are always hypothetical situations in which I could see myself doing anything (so speaks the secular humanist in me), and I couldn’t come up with much. Maybe that’s taking the whole thing too seriously, but there’s another sense that’s been picked up by some participants: one in which they list things they’re proud of not having done. And that quickly gets snide.

I’d guess the meme was originally inspired by the Daily Telegraph’s aren’t-we-clever impromptu feature in which letter-writers proclaim their pride at having never seen The Sound of Music, for example. A few people mentioned it to me this week. It’s vaguely amusing until you realise that most of the contributors are totally serious, then it’s just sad. Tom Hamilton puts it exactly right:

Again, there is nothing wrong with not doing any of these things. But there’s nothing wrong with doing them, either. And if you’re proud of not doing something, then there’s a strong implication that you think that that failure makes you superior to people who do do those things. It’s not just that you don’t much like the taste of Coca-Cola, or are diabetic, or on balance prefer Dr Pepper, or are an alcoholic: it’s that you have refused, on principle, ever to try Coca-Cola – that you are so closed-minded and so full of hatred for everything you think that Coca-Cola represents that you are not even prepared to give it a chance. Why would you do that?

Quite. Is it the laziest way to feel good about yourself? To see virtue in something which requires just the one negative thought? It’s really, really easy to do. I’ve never got around to reading The Great Gatsby, and everybody tells me how wonderful it is. Well, dammit, who are these people to tell me what to do? I hadn’t thought about it until just now, but my not-having-read-it makes a statement that I won’t be lectured to or told what to think, and I’m arbitrarily proud of that! Hurray – instant self-esteem in a big bottle of Ignorant Smug Juice. I shall tell people.

I’ve never watched I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here because it doesn’t appeal to me, and I sometimes catch myself wanting to tell people this when the show comes up in conversation. Why would I want to do that? To make people feel bad about themselves? So that I can feel superior? Probably the latter, but it’s just an appalling way to think, and I kick myself mentally whenever it happens.

This kind of thinking is easy to pick out, because it can’t be reversed. If you’re proud of never having had a Coca-Cola because of their business practices, what you’re actually proud of is a positive thing: you’ve looked at the situation and logically concluded that you don’t want to support the company. But if you’re proud of never having had a Coca-Cola because you just are, or because it’s (horror) popular, what are you actually saying? What are you adding to anything? Like Tom says, such pride only indicates you’re closed-minded and full of hate. Why define yourself by what you are not, rather than what you are?