Unfortunately, the concept of patriotism has become a political hot button topic. One that will immediately polarize far too many people, who will cling to their beliefs, no matter what. Watching the recent debates of the national anthem made me give it some thought.
What is patriotism? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” For me, we can all agree that patriotism is the love of the country, and to display the love is quite easy. In spite of our political differences, we all can appreciate the freedoms afforded to us in the Constitution. Flying and flag and feeling the love and appreciation for the symbol, for what it stands for, is one part of patriotism. However, loving a country is only part.
It’s also important to understand that we all come from diverse backgrounds. Not all of us can look at our family story and feel equal appreciation. I have been incredibly lucky in my life, coming from a good, loving family. Never in my life have I been asked to sacrifice much. I pay my taxes and try to contribute to the general good, but I have never been in a situation where racial profiling has been applied, nor have I been restricted in any capacity to practice my Catholic faith.
When I listen to the national anthem, I stand and honor it. I often think of those who have paid sacrifices. I watched many documentaries and read many books about World War II, and in my mind I often think of whether or not I could have displayed the bravery these young men of The Greatest Generation. To willingly jump out of the landing craft and rush the beach, under fire, often with odds greatly stacked against me. I think of the immaculate cemeteries in Normandy, the ultimate sacrifice.
However, it’s equally important to empathize with others who come from a different background and life experience. Would I have the same levels of patriotism if I am always profiled or feel that I cannot enjoy the same equality as those of others? How would I feel if my family originated from slaves or being from a Native American descent, instead of my European heritage? When I see players kneeling during the anthem, I try to look at things from their perspective, and appreciate their perspective. Burning flags and actively behaving to undermine our freedoms is disrespectful, but what about those trying to make things better, to improve equality for all? I respect that.
It is far too easy to pass judgment on some of the players taking a knee during the anthem. People may cry out, “How dare they disrespect the flag!” or they may shout that, “The SOB’s should be fired!” Life is not a black and white world. Practice some empathy in your regular life. If you see someone of a different culture or opinion, try to understand where they come from. Try to appreciate their life experiences. You may have been granted an easy path, as I have, but others may face challenges that always diminish any momentum for advancement.
Patriotism is devotion to one’s country. It not enough to stand at attention, or how many flags you fly. It is not what political party you are affiliated with, nor which religion you practice. Devotion is what you do to make the country better, not just for you, but for the greater good. We can all look at the football players not standing and be outraged. But think about how many use the system to their own benefit. How many businesses and business leaders, politicians, or the wealthiest in our society use loopholes to dodge taxes? How many dodged the draft during the Vietnam era that are now in leadership positions in the country? It is far too easy to argue that we should all stand at attention and show patriotism and respect, but isn’t it worse that you design laws that benefit only a select few, or using positions of authority to help out family and personal business interests? Personally, I believe these actions pose a far greater threat than those who simply want equal treatment.
Devotion to one’s country can be difficult. Sometimes you have to sacrifice and pay more taxes, performing civic duties without question, or in worst case scenarios perform military service when called. You display devotion by helping others and making a difference. President Kennedy hit the mark perfectly when he said to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. A timeless piece of wisdom.
Patriotism is the love and devotion to the country, but this also includes understanding the full history. Our country is one of the great ones in history, a belief that I feel immense pride in. But everyone needs to understand the entirety of our story. We did many great things, but there have been severe missteps. The Declaration of Independence was written by all Anglo-Saxon Protestants, all male, all white, and some of which were slave owners. To write and sign a document that espouses to state the freedoms of all, as bestowed by their creator, while not allowing women equal rights, engaging in a grotesque multi-generation slavery model, and the horrors faced by the Native American tribes rings a bit hollow and hypocritical to me. I understand the historical significance, but can also examine our history with a critical eye so we never make these same mistakes. Patriotism in action.
Read and learn about our heritage and history. To understand the full story of our nation, and to grasp the context of our actions, both good and bad, allows an individual to know our story. Patriotism is not just flying a flag or standing at attention. Learning about our history and take steps to make it better.
Learning and making a difference is a perfect combination on love and devotion to one’s country. This is the foundation of patriotism.