You’ve all heard people talk with enthusiasm about being “right where they belong,” and that’s because feeling comfortable is important to people. Unfortunately for the narrator of the song “Pride” by folk, indie band American Authors, the saying may go more like “lost where you belong.” That’s what the song is about–feeling alone and rising above it.

In “Pride,” the American Authors’ narrator uses pride to remind himself that he’s not going to give into the temptation to give up; he’s better than that. Now, this pride isn’t necessarily the bad kind of pride that a lot of people complain about or accuse each other of. The narrator’s pride could lead to that, but his isn’t a bad thing when it first appears.

Pride in our accomplishments, wanting to do a good job at something, and staying confident even when others are trying to take us down–these are all good kinds of pride. These kinds of pride keep us on our feet and moving forward. But other kinds are debilitating. They seem to be telling us that we’re strong and confident in who we are by telling us that we’re better than others or don’t need other people; really, they’re tearing us apart by separating us from others. When it comes to “Pride”–the American Authors kind–the topic gets even more complicated, and I’d like to discuss it with you.

Set the Stage

The first and second verses set the stage for us and for what he’ll be saying about pride in the chorus. He sings that his “home don’t feel the same,” and that he’s “lost in the neighborhood / That raised me . . .” And he’s not really sure why, wondering whether maybe he was “the one who’s changed or to blame.” He feels that people have turned on him or given him up. The song doesn’t explain why, and he never really finds out; all he really has is the hurt.

But he resolves, “No, I won’t fold,” and he decides that he “ain’t never giving up [his] pride” or “gonna sell [his] soul.” It’s the chorus where he most strongly states these promises, and the pumping, energetic music makes his resolution seem incredibly strong.

The rest of the song hashes over these same statements and ideas in different ways, and in the end we’re left with four very important questions.

  1. What was the problem?
  2. What is his solution?
  3. Does it work for him?
  4. What can we learn from this?

Now, let me be clear. I’m not trying to explain the songwriter’s biography or trying to delve into what happened in “real life” to make the artist feel the way he does. To me, that verges on celebrity gossip, and I’m trying to stay clearly focused on literary analysis and what this song has to say about the human experience.  The way the artist feels is a way many of us have felt before, and I want to tap into that. Now, that’s not to say that the literal events can’t help us discover the deeper meaning, but I think this song is one in which all the information needed is given.

Allow me to demonstrate:

First, the problem is that American Authors’ narrator feels like he’s been shunned, and he feels hurt, but he’s not quite sure whether the lonesomeness is caused by anyone else or whether it’s caused by hiself. The writer was “[p]ushed out of the family tree,” so it’s possible the pain was caused on purpose, but at the same time, American Authors sings, “Like a fish out of water / Do I belong here?” There’s a question about whether or not he belongs. Whatever reason the songwriter feels this way, the result is the same–he feels out of place.

Second, his solution is to not give up–to not “fold.” He’s not going to be weighed down under the pressure, and he’s trying to come out on top. He’s got “this feeling” that he can make it. He calls this strength and constancy “pride.”

Pride, in this context, is a reference to something like “the indomitable human spirit.” The “indomitable human spirit” stays strong in difficult situations and “can never be defeated” (or so many have said). The songwriter for “Pride,” believes something similar. He wants to not give up and to keep moving on. Giving up would show weakness and would be humbling. If his pride stays strong, he will stay strong despite the difficult circumstances.

Third, we don’t know yet whether it works for him in the long term, but it does seem to work in the short term. He resolves, “Take or leave who I am / Cause this is me.” If this song is a story, we see the main character’s development. He’s gone from being afraid and worried about the changes to being confident in who he is and not caring of what others think. His pride is intact.

Based on my Facebook feed, many of my friends (maybe many of yours too) care deeply that their friends feel confident in who they are. So, what I have to say now may not be popular: I think it’s dangerous to say, “Take me or leave, but I’m staying the same.”

Here’s the reason: I don’t think any of us can deny that we have things wrong with us. We all do bad things from time-to-time, and most us even find it hard to 100%, all-the-time like ourselves (which we would hope normal, self-confident people would be able to do).

And I think that sometimes our ideas about self-confidence keep us from realizing that some of the things wrong with us need to be changed. We have to be careful that our desires for confidence don’t keep us from admitting that we can become better people. Just think: if we all decided right now that we were perfectly happy with who we were and how we handled everything and what our identities were, we would never change and grow or mature. We couldn’t become better versions of ourselves, and we couldn’t practice being better human beings. We couldn’t make the world a better place because we’d keep messing up our little part of it in the same old ways we always have.

We are perfect just the way we are–this is one of the biggest lies about self-confidence. We can always be better people. But the key to this is that we need to base our self-assessments on truth, not necessarily on what others say. Sometimes they are right, and we should listen to them. But what most of my friends get right about self-confidence is that just because someone else thinks we should change, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right. They might be right, but we need to base our actions on what we think is true.

I hope that I haven’t made this too much like a Sunday School lesson or that I’m missing the point of what’s being said in “Pride,” but I think this song and the actions in it open themselves up to some very really conversations for my generation.

And that brings me to the fourth question: I look around on the Internet and Facebook, and I see a lot of people arguing for why we should be happy with who we are. And there are a lot of really good reasons for that. People will try to devalue us for how we look, who we hang out with, or our preferences.

American Authors

For instance, the war over homosexuality in America is stagnate right now, I think, because people are mixing up logical discussion with name calling. Once we start calling people “homos” or “bigots,” we’ve made destroying the opposition, rather than convincing them, our target.

And that’s where pride comes in. When others make arguments personal and belittling or they shun us because we don’t agree with them, pride is our natural defense. We justify calling the other person stupid or take solace in the fact that at least we’re not as narrow-minded as they are. We argue against who they are rather than what they’re doing. 

And if, in the first place, the argument was about what they were doing, attacking who they are really shouldn’t come into play.

I don’t have all the answers about American Authors’ problems here, but I do think his “pride” reminds me of what I’ve described. It’s a defense mechanism against a difficult situation and people who refuse to understand the narrator (or at least leave him feeling not understood). In as much as that pride keeps him from being hurt by other people’s hurtful comments, there’s still going to be the danger that it will make other people’s opinions mean very little to him. When we have pride, we tend to become complacent about who we are, or we may become so focused on being who we are that we forget how it influences those around us.

I’ve met people before who want others to accept them for who they are; they don’t want anyone to try to change them. In fact, that describes me fairly well sometimes. I tend to like those people, but they can also be abrasive. Sometimes, there are things about them that I don’t like, and there’s really no way to tell them that. They’re blind and lost in that respect because they won’t let others in, and they won’t give up their pride.

From personal experience, I can tell you that this is a bad place to be. I’ve gotten so enthralled in my work that I forget those around me. Me being successful becomes the most important to me, and I spend less time worrying about others. When I do that, I’m being myself, and I’m discovering who I want me to be, but others can be hurt by it.

I don’t think being a good human is as simple as discovering ourselves. I think that if the person we discover doesn’t put others first or care about something more than ourselves, we need to start looking again.

To summarize, American Authors’ song “Pride” is a strong, direct claim that the narrator will not be defeated by not feeling accepted. His own wonderings and others’ actions will not cause him to doubt himself or to keep him from being who he is.

While he may know everything that I’ve said in this post (and honestly I’m sure he does), I want to reach out to my readers to remind you that while “pride” in the way American Authors is talking about can be helpful, be sure not to indulge in actual pride or to cut yourself off from knowing that you too are imperfect, can do better, and may need help from those around you.

This song touches on a small part of the “human experience,” and I wanted to give my two cents about what I think we can all take away from it. I know I have rambled, and I know that my thoughts are not entirely cohesive. I apologize for that. If I were less rushed right now, I would have been able to serve you better in this post. Despite all that, I hope that you’ll let me know what you think of what I’ve said, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and will come back soon.

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Clifford Stumme has his master’s in English literature and is a blogger and a college instructor/desk-watcher at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April. He thinks pop music is awesome. Seriously awesome.

Clifford Stumme