Friday, October 12, 2012

smells like school spirit

It's that time of year again, for school colors to come out, pompoms to wave, dress-up days, skits...a.k.a., the decadent pageantry during Homecoming Spirit Week. It occurred to me today that school spirit isn't all that different from patriotism. We have yells and chants, rousing music, we dress up in our school colors like people wear the flag on the 4th. And like patriotism, it's something almost everyone at least pretends to have. But I wonder if, like with patriotism, there's questioning underneath.

Because the thing is, at some point you realize that you ended up in your country not because of any awesome membership in the elect chosen to reside there, not because of some predestined fate, not because of anything that makes you uniquely American or Chinese or South African or what have you, but because of luck--because of accident of birth. And luck is something that is very difficult to be proud of.

To me, it makes little sense to have pride in such accidental membership. It justifies pride based not on the actions that should evoke it but rather because self-preservation dictates that you support your own group. Is this to say that we should disavow our allegiances because of what petty cause we have for them? Not at all.

Just, instead of rah-rah'ing for our mascot or our school's name or (in the case of patriotism) our country, we should celebrate ideals. And if in the process we find that our ideals may be more universal than our school spirit cheers or our patriotic sentiments, that's a good thing. (Guess what, it's easier to get someone to agree with "freedom, justice, and equality" than "I love America!") So why be divisive when we can unite around the things that really matter? I don't know about you, but I really care more about what we stand for than our name, our colors, or (sorry!) whether our football team won at the HC game tonight.

I think we should be proud of our schools. But I think we should have better reasons than, "because I go there." I'm proud because the amazing friends and classmates who performed at the Homecoming assembly today had creativity and drive. The folks who created clubs and rallied members to raise awareness and fundraise today inspire with their leadership and dedication. These kinds of strengths provide ideals we should celebrate.

Sure, it's hard to use face paint and pompoms to cheer on something as abstract as an ideal; but if we hope to give a glimpse of who we truly are, whether as the people of a nation or the students of a school, we will always have to go far deeper than a name.


  1. This actually doesn't make any sense at all. So, yeah, we ended up there by pure luck, but that's no reason not to have pride. Yeah, you've thought of a reason to be proud, but there isn't always one. No one has to have a reason to be proud. People can be proud of their heritage even if it's littered with bodies (christianity, etc.). Heck, I can even be proud of being white or jewish if I want to, even though I have no reason to be.

    Why do we need to cheer for an 'ideal'? That's how wars get started, actually. The 'ideal' of democracy vs. the 'ideal' of communism. Sure, it sounds good on paper, but so do A LOT OF THINGS. The idea of basing nationalism on an ideal is 1. unattainable and 2. ineffective.

    That said, an interesting thought, although I don't agree with it.

  2. Hi Adora :)
    I saw your TED talk on Youtube and was so inspired that I had to look you up!

    This was a very thought-provoking post: I agree that accidental membership is no valid reason for pride and hype. But sometimes, I feel patriotism could drive people to work for their countries' benefits- and collectively this is a step towards global improvement. Of course the ideal is to think of yourself as a global citizen and do what's best for our planet as a whole, but this is a concept that few can embody- patriotism is a concept that's closer and easier and more relative to most of the public.

    Looking forward to your future posts!

  3. My kids are going to school where I went so we have a lot of school spirit in our home. I want to find some cute school spirit wear for their back to school week. I'm helping out so I want to dress up as well.

  4. Oh Adora, I think you are going to love Ernest Becker. By putting our hopes and identities into institutions and patriotism we enter into the illusion that we are aligning with what is powerful and enduring, thus making ourselves (in our minds), powerful and enduring, and a little less freaked out about our own mortality--at least distracted for a moment from the reality that we are fragile and temporary and not as significant as we like to think we are. I am no exception to this. I understand it, but I still do it. I am so excited to know you, to have more discussions with you and to learn from each other. Thrilled actually!

  5. I too think that patriotism too often looks like school spirit. And I agree with Rosalyn that trying to impose an ideal on others for the virtue of the ideal leads mostly to suffering. (dead bodies, war, etc.) But I don't think true patriotism is, in it's truest sense, like school spirit at all. I AM proud of my country, though it's great deeds of the past certainly don't predetermine or ensure my own greatness. But I show my patriotism by personally trying to embody the courage, the self-sufficiency, the strength, and the creativity that highlight great moments in America's past. Celebrating my country reminds me of those things I wish to be. (And being honest about the darker moments and flaws of my homeland can also help to inspire me to be the citizen that puts forth the effort to ensure the past isn't repeated, which is also a "patriotic duty.")

  6. I don't know why some of these people have such a problem with school spirit. I've always enjoyed school and that made me excited to show that. I'm sure some people don't but to each his own :)

  7. Anonymous8:53 AM

    I love this, thanks for sharing! I've been wondering a lot about how I could get my school spirit up. I know school would be a much more enjoyable place if this could happen. I love the advice given, wish me luck!