Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On Nationalism and National Pride and Olympic Hockey

I'm not sure why pride is one of the deadly sins. A lack of self worth is at least as deadly a sin and most of us are deeply afflicted by self-esteem issues at one time or another if not always. Pride, I suppose, is not just about feeling good about oneself, but, really, about feeling better than someone else. Which is what millions of Canadians are happy to do, especially if "someone else" is the United States, and especially if what we're feeling better about is winning a hockey game.

And that's why I have such disdain for nationalism generally. It seems to me that the crudest form of nationalism is exactly about the sinful kind of pride. It says, `this country and the people in it are better than everyone else. Our beliefs and ideals better, our way of life is better.' And nationalism says that without bothering to try to understand why anyone might want to be different. That nationalism sees difference as competition--another way of life can not be accepted unless it's far enough away and doesn't slow me down. War is born of this attitude, and intolerance, and privilege, and ignorance.

There is not just one meaning of life, but surely one aspect of making one's life meaningful, is to do whatever one can to make life better for everyone. Pride is not about that.

And yet, there is a balance somewhere. Pride in others is also about feeling a connection with people. A parent can be proud of a child's accomplishments without wishing other children ill. We can all be proud of people who act in the better interests of others -- Marie Curie, Terry Fox, Martin Luther King -- people whose success is an example to us all and who make us want to be good people by being good people.

What I'm trying to explain to myself, given my questions about nationalism, is why this past week I became a hockey fan. When I was a young Canadian, I skied. I didn't skate and still don't (at least not very well). Other kids got up early and went to hockey practice, not me. I don't watch the NHL, I don't even know all of the rules, and yet this past week, I've been glued to the TV watching Olympic hockey. The only channel I get is the Aboriginal People's Television Network (APTN) so most of the games I've seen have been called in Cree or other First Nations languages which makes the whole experience seem all that much more Canadian to me. And what I have found myself doing, is cheering for the Canadian team.

Cheering may not be strong enough a term. I've been on the edge of my seat doubling my heart rate when the guys have been in trouble. I wanted the Canadian team to win. I wanted them to win because I felt that somehow they stood for being able to be good at something. They were businessmen out there--playing by the plan, trying to get as many chances as they could against the best goalie in the world, trying not to get penalties that would make the game lopsided. I didn't want them to beat the Swiss, or the Germans, or the Slovaks, or the Americans; I wanted them to play so well that they would win. I wanted to be able to be proud of them because they did something good and they did it for me and for thirty-four million other Canadians who wanted them to be that good. And when Sidney Crosby scored the gold-medal-winning goal in overtime, I didn't think about how lousy it must feel to be Ryan Miller or anyone else on the US team or anyone else in the USA. For me, it wasn't about being better than someone else; it was just about being pretty darn good, and I was on my feet and I was happy.

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