A Double Edged Sword

Let me preface all of this by saying I love the fact that I’m Polish. I’m proud of it. I enjoy acknowledging the many achievements of famous Polish people such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Marie Curie (born Maria Salome Skłodowska), and Frédéric Chopin (born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin) much to the chagrin of those who actually believe the numerous insults hurled at Polish intellect. However, I would also argue that it is this same pride in one’s nationality that causes just as many, if not more at times, problems and strife in the world.

While everyone has a right and should carry a measure of pride in their heritage, we all know those that take it too far. We all know that person who consistently regards themselves as better than other purely based on their nationality for no other reason than they are that nationality. Rarely do they base this belief on any accepted fact because frankly there is no accepted fact that makes one nationality or culture inherently or generally better than another. Yet people and even whole families do this. There is a huge difference between carrying yourself with pride and being too prideful. Many people take themselves and their heritage too seriously and it creates problems. Eventually a person, a family, a group starts to believe their own hype to a degree that they encroach upon someone else’s life / lives.

The examples of this are numerous with the two that come to mind quickly, the Alsace-Lorraine border and the Polish-German border. Borders change due to many social, economic, and political reasons which can at times also lead to war. However, at the root of all that is the simple notion that one group thinks they are better and/or more deserving than the other for no justifiable reason. The social, economic, political, and military clashes between groups (with rare exception such as Hitler’s megalomania) are really just giant pissing contests on a grand and sometimes destructive scale. In the end, nothing is really accomplished. To take the Alsace-Lorraine and Polish-German borders as examples again, both of those areas have undergone centuries of political and/or military fighting with numerous border changes back an forth. Each country gaining and and losing land over the years. And what is the end result? Today both of those regions are inhabited by people who are basically half French, half German or half Polish and half German living side by side in relative, comparative peace. I’m sure there are still some that hold grudges but we no longer have the border wars of years past in those regions. The people living there on each side of the border are more alike than they are different. And it only took centuries of fighting to achieve that. Imagine all the lives and money that could have been saved if they just skipped the middle man. All that fighting and conflict did was arrive at an arbitrary, invisible, border that attempts to separate people but ultimately fails to do so. French marries German, German marries Polish, the cultures meld. The wars between, ultimately useless acts of bravado, testosterone, and pride that serve no purpose.

As I said in the previous paragraph, those people that live in these areas ultimately wind up being more similar than different. Why? Because nationalities are really false man made concepts. Some of you may be put off by that statement and it’s true none the less. While nationalities may indeed have different customs, languages, etc, those customs are usually borrowed from a neighboring culture or nationality and evolve into something slightly or drastically different. Languages evolved by taking vocabulary and syntax from others. Unless you come from a culture that existed in total isolation from others, your customs, language, art, pretty much everything is not unique. Biologically we are all the same. There is no difference between you and the person who lives across the street, the person who lives in a bordering country, or the person who lives half way around the world from you. You are exactly the same species.

To put it another way, nationalities are just as fake and made up as dog breeds with the exception that 1) we are not inbred (well, with the exception of some Royal families and pockets within certain nations) and 2) dogs don’t seem to dislike or feel superior to other dogs soley because they are a different breed. You may not like that analogy and too bad, it fits. Breeds are fake. There is nothing “pure” about them unless you consider inbreeding a form of pureness. And just as a Gold Retriever can successfully mate with a Poodle, someone from North America can reproduce with someone from the Middle East, A Jewish person can have children with someone from Japan, a Scandinavian can have children with someone from Africa.

There is also a high degree of hypocrisy in people who are overly prideful of their nationality. There is an immunity many feel of their nationality. It is most evident in of all things, jokes. My aim is not to debate whether ethnic jokes are acceptable. That is an topic in and of itself that would fill pages. The point I’m making is something I’ve seen time and time again. A person of certain nationality, say Italian, will sit and tell all sorts of ethnic jokes but the moment someone tries to tell them an Italian joke, it’s off limits. Somehow, they feel they can make fun of any culture or nationality but no one can make fun of their own. And I’m not picking on Italians. I’ve seen Polish, Irish, etc all do the same. They carry a level of superiority that is both hypocritical and undeserved. But they never see it and they get angry when challenged about it. For the record, I enjoy a good Polish joke. The key word being “good”.

At the end of the day we are all the same. We are all Homo sapiens sapiens. Unfortunately, most people become blind to that. Most see the external, superficial differences that have evolved over the centuries and use that as a means to act superior to one another.

So while I champion your right to be proud of your heritage and the positive accomplishments of your culture, I also ask everyone to stop being assholes and taking yourselves too seriously. Stop being overly prideful and extolling your superiority just because you belong to a certain country or have a certain heritage. It’s ugly, it’s counter productive, and you only contribute to the ills of the world.