Pride and prejudice: the twin pillars of stigma?

by Jane Mahoney, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC on August 12, 2010 · 2 comments

in stigma

You know how sometimes you have a couple of seemingly unrelated experiences and awhile later you make a connection between them? Serendipity! Well, recently, this happened to me.

Pride, prejudice and honor

Men of Honor, starring Robert DeNiro and Cuba Gooding Jr.

I was watching Men of Honor about a week ago. I have always enjoyed the hero’s story in this movie. In spite of all of the obstacles thrown before Carl, he triumphs! At the beginning of the movie Carl meets Jo, a librarian, and is really “taken” with her. Jo is an utter snob, who haughtily (pride) asks Carl about his education. He tells her he has not finished high school. She announces that she is too busy for him. She has high ambitions to go to medical school, and she can’t be bothered with someone who lacks education (prejudice). Undaunted, Carl surprises Jo with one bright flower. She smiles. Carl “melts” her pride with one simple flower, and a true-love life-long commitment is born. In that moment, her pride and prejudice dissolve—the rest is history.

Later, Carl meets up with his Master Chief who lets Carl know, in no uncertain terms, that he will never be a master diver in the U.S. Navy because no black man has ever accomplished this—and basically this isn’t going to happen on the Master Chief’s watch either (prejudice). Carl retorts, “I am making something of myself, Master Chief” (pride).

I realized as I was watching the movie that pride can come in two forms: the arrogant, disdainful, haughty form and the pride that comes from a healthy sense of self-respect. Prejudice is always the same – it just closes the door.

Pride, prejudice and a Pulitzer

A few days later I started reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my 14-year-old granddaughter. I thought this could be a great bonding moment for us, especially since this the 50th anniversary of this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but I digress.

In one scene, Tom has been taken to jail accused of raping a white girl. Atticus, Tom’s lawyer, is sitting guard outside the jail anticipating there might be trouble for Tom. Sure enough, trouble comes knocking. A mob of townsfolk

Gregory Peck starred as Atticus in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird

descend with a vengeance (prejudice). It is Atticus against the mob, and the odds are not in his favor. He tries to reason with the group, but has no luck. Scout, Atticus’ young daughter, stumbles onto the scene and suddenly realizes that she and Atticus are over their heads. Then she remembers her mother’s advice about how it helps to talk with people about what they are interested in. So, she starts cheerfully greeting one of the men, mentioning that his son is in her class at school. She continues talking about his son, how they get along, and how he’s doing in school. Basically, she talks to the man about something important to him. The man eventually loses enthusiasm for going after Tom and tells the mob, “Let’s go.”

I started thinking that this was another way to “melt” prejudice, even if only temporarily. Atticus puts his arm around Scout, and they walk home together. You can picture the pride Atticus feels about Scout in this very moment.

Pride, prejudice and the military

The next day I was driving to work listening to NPR. Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli was being interviewed about a study the Army had conducted related to suicide in soldiers. The general talked about all of the stresses related to deployment, but he also talked about the stresses of being a young adult in today’s world. He mentioned the common factors of trying to make it in a world of economic uncertainty and inflation. He talked about drug use and family discord and many other real life problems that soldiers face each and every day. He also mentioned the stress many soldiers face from living in a military culture in which pride often overrides compassion for those with mental illness (prejudice). He assured the public that is changing.

The next news segment featured a report about the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). I was so taken aback when I heard a young widow interviewed about her husband, who died by suicide while the family was on vacation at Disney World. I tried to imagine the shock, trauma and grief that young family experienced. She talked about how she and her children were ostracized (prejudice). Then she found out about TAPS, which she and her children began to participate in. She spoke about being honored as a family whose deceased family member was appreciated for his service. They began to heal because someone honored their loved one. Nothing more, nothing less. I started thinking that honoring someone in this way is another method some people have used to help “melt away” the stigma surrounding suicide.

Connecting these three stories underscored for me the need for all of us to find novel ways to melt away hurtful pride and prejudice in so many areas of life. All three stories highlight some way a person changed a situation for the better through making a positive human connection. The case of the TAPS story is an example of how healing relationships can foster dignity and respect and dissolve stigma in real life, not just in books and movies.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Mahoney August 16, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Mom, that was very well written and expressed with much personal attention to 2 important topics in our culture. Way to go! Nice blog, I enjoyed reading it.

Love, Mike

Walker Ogden August 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Excellent, Jane.


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