A Lion, a Bronco, and LBJ Walk in to a Bar…(Some Notes on Pride)

(Note from the blogger: In this piece, I intentionally do not touch on pride as it pertains to the LGBTQ community. That is the strongest, most well-defined sense of the word I know, and smarter people than I have better things to say on it.)

I am a Leo and a daughter, which means that the word pride has two distinctly different interpretations to me.

To Leos (or this Leo), pride has been a trademark of every character breakdown assigned to our star sign. Our pride is the pride of the lion: wild, large, arrogant. If it were to be given a physical trait, it would be a puffed chest.

To daughters (or this daughter), pride is something you come to slowly. You are taught to need it, so you chase it, reject it, and sleep in its perceived absence. Your life’s work, for many years, is to find it — until one day (hopefully) you realise it’s just there. That kind of pride is all hunger and humility.

So there is pride as arrogance. And pride as humility. Science has called this “hubristic pride” and “authentic pride” and charted the psychological effects of both. Personally, I’ve never trusted pride. It seems so contingent upon absolute success, and I don’t trust feelings that live or die by such extremes. I believe in things that you can cultivate quietly from within. Pride, though incredibly attractive, comes with too much pressure to win.

And then I went to Denver Colorado during Super Bowl 50. The Denver Broncos were predicted by many to get slaughtered by the Carolina Panthers, and I expected a stubborn, defiant energy from Denverites. I expected to meet fans that laughed in the face of NFL commentators, and shouted “We can do this! GO BRONCOS!” But mostly I encountered caution and the lowering of expectations. “I just hope they go out with dignity,” one person told me. Others made the “fingers crossed” gesture under their giant foam hats. Without sacrificing their pride, they were making peace with possible outcomes.

And then the Broncos won. The city went bananas. Strangers hugged each other in the streets. It was impossible to tell if people were drunk or joyful — so joyful that they simply hadn’t had time to drink. It was all pride, cracked open and robust and exciting. These were the chemicals of pride compacted into one great endorphin that ripped through the veins of the city and went boom. Their pride just needed an excuse to combust.

As did mine, it turns out.

The Super Bowl wasn’t the purpose of my trip to Denver. The purpose was the opening of All The Way at the Denver Centre for the Performing Arts. My dad was making his DCPA debut in the starring role of Lyndon B. Johnson. I got to sit in an audience with hundreds of strangers and watch as my dad magically expanded on stage, as only great actors can do.

As I watched him take his final bow, I felt all the feelings. I wasn’t just proud of his performance. I was proud that he was funny and kind. I admired that he had overcome obstacles to become a well-rounded human and an upstanding citizen. I respected that he was well-read and politically engaged. I appreciated that he had exposed me to great authors and taught me how to fish. One moment of pride opened me up to a scale of gratitude that generally we don’t access in our daily lives.

Pride needs a trigger, a public one. Pride needs witnesses. You could call it selfishness, or narcissism, or “hubristic pride”, but I think that would be limiting. It is incredibly, beautifully human to see the things we are proud of reflected back to us in the eyes of others. Give it a stage, a Super Bowl, a scrutinized space and your pride will be refracted by all those witnesses into a thousand (or a hundred, or a dozen, or two) gorgeous pieces of clear light that are all the clearer for having seen it as others see it. And when pride is perceived clearly, it becomes a portal to so many other feelings of joy, gratitude, and love.

This is one of hundreds of arguments for creating public spaces through the arts. When we create an open space to reflect, and undergo that reflection as a group, we see things through many eyes, not just our own. We foster local and national pride for our artists, ideas, differences, and shared experiences. Pride fosters unity, and unity enables change.

And you know who knows this better than anyone? The marketing squad at the NFL. A long time ago they recognized pride as a powerful feeling that, if harnessed, could lead to engagement and action from its consumer base. They know that the two things that can force us to action are pride and fear, and when the fireworks go off, or Lady Gaga slays the national anthem, they are acknowledging pride as a wormhole of passion, nostalgia, incentive, and effect that can only be accessed through the whole of the group. How else can we harness this power? How can it accomplish real greatness and change?

My dad’s doing to read this post, and later we’ll talk about it, and I’ll wonder why I didn’t say all these things to him in person before I wrote them. But pride, in its enormous, inimitable power cannot be articulated. So we simply cheer in our giant foam hats, or say “I’m proud of you.” It has to suffice.

Seek the crowds, and within them, be a little arrogant. Find a public space to make your pride go boom. Show off. Let your lion roar. For all the good we do as Canadians, get a little Denver-circa-Super-Bowl-Fifty. I’d wager that some amazing feelings will be reflected back to you, and maybe you’ll be the person to figure out how that feeling can change the world.

–Alex Johnson for Koffler.Digital

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