Grand Rounds in Literature - Bryan Original Essay

Ethnic Pride Without Ethnic Arrogance
By Charles S. Bryan, MD

Editorial note: Scottish societies throughout the world celebrate the first Monday after Thanksgiving as St. Andrew's Day, in honor of their patron saint. The following remarks were given as the presidential address to the St. Andrew's Society of the City of Columbia, South Carolina on 2 December 2002. They are offered here because of their possible relevance to these troubling times. -CSB

I wish to thank you for the honor and privilege of serving as your thirty-second president, and dedicate these brief remarks to the memories of Neill Macaulay, one of our founders, and of mother. I take as my text Mother's aphorism that "the point is not so much to be proud of your ancestors, as to act in such a way that your ancestors would be proud of you." My title: "Ethic Pride Without Ethnic Arrogance."

When Neill Macaulay approached me about the Society some years ago, I asked Mother if we had papers proving lineal descent from a Scot. She pulled down a book entitled Descendents of Micum McIntire, which contained my name as descendent number 2814. Micum McIntire, it seems, was among the 10,000 Scots captured by Cromwell's forces after the disastrous Battle of Dunbar on September 3, 1650. The English rounded up the prisoners and herded many of them into a church. When the church proved far too small for the appointed purpose, the British commander ordered his men to kill every officer and every tenth enlisted man (a practice traceable to the Romans and from which we get the word, "decimate"). McIntire might have been illiterate but he was certainly not innumerate-he realized that he was tenth in line. He broke his shackles and ran. The British caught him but so admired his courage that they spared his life, shipping him with other Scots as an indentured servant aboard the good ship Unity bound for the New World.

I tell this sorry tale because each of us has one or more Micum McIntires in our family trees. A wealthy lord, relaxing behind the parapets of his well-fortified castle, gazing contentedly over his lands consisting of everything on his side of a distant firth or loch, sipping his favorite malt whiskey, counting the days before his black cattle are driven down to Edinburgh for sale at a handsome profit, is not about to board a ship for any strange land, least of all the Carolinas, rumored to be hot, humid, and teeming with deadly fevers and venomous reptiles. No, he'll stay put, thank you very much. We are the sons of desperate men and women who, much as they cherished Scotland, took substantial risks in search of a better life for themselves and for those to follow.

As we know, these hardy Scots enjoyed success far disproportionate to their numbers. How, and why? They succeeded because they worked hard, worked intelligently, and treated others fairly. They succeeded because they had known hardships, poverty, and persecution. They succeeded because they took pride in their identity as Scots, but did not interpret their ethnic distinctions as a basis for superiority. They succeeded because, to borrow a line from one of my favorite plays, "Mama taught us that we're as good as anybody-and better than nobody." Ethnic pride without a false sense of entitlement. Ethnic pride without ethnic arrogance.

Today, as has happened so often in the shabby history of our species, conflict rooted in ethnic differences threatens to rent asunder our way of life. Might not humankind do well to consider the basic values espoused by these our Scottish ancestors? Yet what exactly do we mean by that hackneyed phrase, "basic values" or "good old-fashioned family values?" My brief response is that we mean living one's life according to the cardinal virtues as articulated by Plato-prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude-informed by the theological or transcendent virtues as articulated by St. Paul-faith, hope, and love. Several weeks ago, in Dr. Dewitt's Thursday Morning Men's Bible Study, I found an epiphany of sorts in Philippians 1:9-"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment." Here, love-highest of the Pauline virtues-informs prudence or wisdom-highest of the Platonic virtues. Now as perhaps never before, the fate of humankind hinges on wise decisions based on good judgment amply informed by love for our fellow men! As Robert Burns put it optimistically,

Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a' that)
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree and an' a' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
It's comin yet for a' that,
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

Ethic pride without ethnic arrogance. Our distant ancestors, the Micum McIntires, would scarcely recognize our finery tonight-the Prince Charlie jackets, the "little kilts" in clan-specific tartans, the formal sporrans and bejeweled sghian dubhs-for they crossed the Atlantic in wooden ships well before the Highland Revival of the nineteenth century. But they would look at us in our finery tonight and say, "Ye doon good, lads." And they would encourage us to cherish, to exemplify, and to promote the values, the work ethic, and the love for fellow humans for which they stood and sacrificed.

Charles S. Bryan, M.D., MACP, FRCP (Edin.)
Two Medical Park, Suite 502
Columbia, SC 29203