The Roman Pride
On my first visit to Rome, I was excited but skeptical. Apart from the joys of food, fashion and the ancient buildings that make up one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – what I did not expect was – how warm the Romans are. In the shops I went, I felt a genuine welcoming and despite my curiosity not getting them any business, the willingness to help somebody they may never see again in their lives, really impressed me. Although my experiences varied, I can say that the overall customer service was really good despite the millions of tourists they see every year. Nothing I asked was extremely bothersome. There was almost always acknowledgment upon our arrival, exceptions were made and recommendations to jump the museum queues were given (hooray for reluctant queuers!!!), generous suggestions of their favorite place to eat and calling taxis* for us late at night.
In a city where “nothing works” as Cristina from Spazio Artigiano described, this is pretty good going. So I wonder – what is it that makes this city work (in the eyes of the temporary visitors at least)? Cristina and her neighbor, look out for each others’ plants when either of them are away and they do not even have to mention it to one another. The community is what ensures its members are well, when the state is absent. “This is what makes this city work”, she concluded.
In love with their past and openly proud about it, modern Romans are a mixture of originals, Northern, Southern Italians and some foreigners. With 2500 drinkable water fountains scattered across the city, it makes me think that the emperors were wise enough by the average accession age of 40 and determined to leave a lasting legacy behind. Instead of short-termism, they focused on the long-haul. They never saw the return of their investment (in their lifetimes) but their legacy remains for two millennia and it will continue to serve the Romans for the years to come. These are achievements worthy of the Romans’ pride.
However, Romans do not sit around, comfortable in their blessed surroundings. They are hard working and take pride in preserving, evolving and exporting their gastronomy, design, crafts, architecture, engineering and traditions for a serious price tag. They are generous with their time, their information and their food! Also they are ready to give you a business card at every opportunity, with a smile on their face. “How commercially minded!”, I thought.
Their pride was something I wanted to decipher, as it was prevalent and seemed to be the key to making life in this city “work” (in my eyes anyway!). Pride often is associated with the past and history. It’s a feeling of satisfaction on the great accomplishments of our own or those of our ancestors that we have inherited and that prove our worth into this world. If you take the dictionary definition of the word pride**, it could easily lead to believing that past accomplishments only entitle you to pride. Or worse, misinterpret that pride is a passive feeling or arrogance that stems from the past, with no personal action today. My observations about the Romans were not adding up. Plus, what about the second part of the definition? I am beginning to suspect that there must be another dimension to their pride. I start imagining some sort of a pride continuum, which includes the “consciousness of one’s own dignity”.
When in 2008, Greece was demonized by the global media about its economic situation, I was deeply ashamed. I lost my pride overnight. Suddenly being Greek was not “cool”. I felt being looked down for being Greek. This is how international economic performance can deeply affect the human identity. The Greek economy was crumbling and Greeks were now the world’s financial losers. I would catch myself, avoiding to mention that I am Greek because I knew where the conversation would end up… It took me a while, but I have now come to realize that, pride also lives in the “now” and it is the sweet promise of our potential as a country through its representatives. My pride does not need to stem from past successes and accomplishments nor history alone. Our origin tells a lot about our identity and capabilities. And it is significant because it creates stereotypes that we as humans fight for (and against) everyday. Identity and pride are so intimately woven together that they are almost inseparable.
Coming back to the Romans (and their pride). What I took away from my short visit in Rome is, that the Romans are proud across the whole pride spectrum. They are proud in three dimensions (3D): I) about their glorious past and history, II) aware of their own worth in the present and III) display a habit of investing before they see the return of their investment, in confidence of a promising future.
Since then, I am re-learning to be a truly proud Greek – for the millions of Hellenes who are actively making a difference everyday within their sphere of influence. I allow pride to fuel an active investment into my future. Knowing that I am a heir of one of the most admired civilizations on earth, I am hopeful of my potential. I now know that pride is a healthy feeling, and not an empty promise. Because we only have power to create our present and our future, not change our past.
When do you feel proud?
And when does it become something you censor or avoid?
What are your own thoughts on pride?
I am looking forward to your views/comments!
*Taxi drivers are a different breed so they are not included in the above category – you have been warned!
- a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
- consciousness of one’s own dignity.