What does patriotism mean to you as an American? Loyalty to your country at all costs, appreciation for the people in the past who worked and spoke and fought for freedom, a tingly feeling when you sing the national anthem, devotion to the ideals of equality and freedom? Gratitude that your ancestors were able to emigrate here to obtain freedom and opportunity, love for the beauty and grandeur of this great land, thankfulness that we’re not like some of the “awful “people in other parts of the world?
Oh, I understand many of those feelings, and I feel the love and gratitude also. Recent troubling conversations made me rethink the idea of patriotism though. If our love and loyalty stop at the borders of our house or city or state or country, what kind of people does that make us? I’m not even talking about the idea of immigration here. I’m talking about an attitude of the heart. We certainly want an orderly nation where people who consistently work hard are rewarded for their work and where honesty and integrity are admirable qualities we want to model for our young people.
It’s our attitudes that put us at risk though and our severe divisiveness that seems to get more severe all the time. It’s also our refusal to look at some of the things going on in our country because it’s “un-American” to question attitudes or policies.
I know that “all we need is love” sounds like a hippie or airy-fairy phrase which to some people has no connection to the real world. However, I would have to disagree. When we look through the lens of love, we see a different world than when looking through a lens of disconnectedness and fear. Can we desire for everyone else the good we desire for ourselves? Can we look past surface behavior to the root cause underneath? Can we open our hearts beyond our families and those who look or sound like us? Can we stop looking, even for a little while, at what’s wrong with people and start looking at ourselves and our beliefs and behavior? Can we stop thinking it’s patriotic to defend things we would quickly condemn if they were coming from somewhere else?
Things won’t change overnight, but they will never change if we don’t change. I’m not saying we never defend our country or don’t show pride in being an American. But what is that pride all about? Being exclusive, killing the larger number of our enemies, having the most and best stuff? Or opening our hearts, figuring out ways to respect and honor all life, taking good care of the magnificent land we are privileged to live on?
It has to start with a way of thinking. People often say that America is a Christian nation, but Jesus himself wouldn’t recognize many of our ideas as coming from anything he taught while on this earth. It takes a strong, visionary person to see the possibilities when we awaken to what love really means, and it’s going to take a lot of those people to get us past the stage we are in now. And not just Americans, but people from all nations, ages, and walks of life. I consider myself an American and am thankful for that, but I also consider myself a citizen of the world and I know that every life in that world is just as valuable as my own. So, yes, love your country and its people, but base it on a love for freedom, equality, integrity, and opportunity (and then work to make that a reality), and not on a hatred of others.