Let's Get a Serious

Yesterday was Independence Day here in the States, and all of the “God Bless America”s, “Proud to be American”s and “America is the Greatest Country In the World”s got us thinking on the subject of patriotism.

Strong patriotism is something that doesn’t come naturally to either of us. This is mostly because we’re bothered by ethnocentricity, but also because patriotism in America is often defined as blind support of our leaders’ every move. Especially here in the Midwest, where we’ve grown up around a lot of “If you don’t like it, get out” or “You’re with us or against us” type of attitude (not from our parents, by the way). Jake didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about politics when we were in high school, but I spent most of my time enraged.

For me, this changed because of a wonderful teacher, Mr. McCarthy . I was in Forensics, a class and competitive extra-curricular activity with competitive tournaments in the forensic arts of debate, public speaking, and interpretation. At the time, I was only focused on the interpretation part: the events I participated in were Dramatic Interpretation (which was pretty much a super serious monologue) and Dou Interpretation (which was a scene with a partner). Mr. McCarthy was trying to convince me to do Original Oration, for which I would have to write and present a speech. I was struggling to decide what to write the speech about and doubted my abilities to do the event at all. My teacher suggested I write about patriotism.

I looked at him like he was crazy.

He knew me well, and he knew that I was pretty angry with America at large at the time.

But then he asked me a question that permanently shifted my perspective: “Where would you rather live?”

I thought long and hard about that question. Many countries popped into my head (mostly France! France!), but they were all places I’d like to visit.

I answered, “Nowhere else. I’d rather stay here and work to make it better.”

He said, “That’s what patriotism is.”

That conversation has stuck with me, and the perspective that Mr. McCarthy presented has greatly benefited Jake as well.

We love our country. We don’t always agree with what’s going on here, don’t always think that the American way is the best way, and certainly aren’t always proud of America’s international actions. But there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.

Seeing patriotism in this light is something that’s very important to us. We think of our country as a family: it’s where we’re comfortable. We’re used to the way things are, conditioned to think the way we live is normal. And sometime’s there’s a really embarrassing uncle. Sometimes there’s abuse. A country, like a family, is something to love unconditionally, but there are also times that the status quo is something a citizen has a moral responsibility to try to change.

Patriotism in a democracy is trying to make things better. It’s keeping informed on issues we vote on as much as possible, getting over thinking that your country does EVERYTHING the best and take a look at how other countries have dealt with similar social and political issues, and working to understand what will really WORK for us.

We wish more people saw patriotism in this way. We were shocked to find how much misinformation existed even among college students: when we were in college, most students believed that Iraq was responsible for 9/11, for instance. We’re shocked now, when listening to complaining about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, how many people are threatening to move to Canada now that the act on health care reform has been deemed constitutional (good luck with that: you’re going in for a really funny surprise about health care when you get there). Not many Americans know what’s going on in America. Not many Americans know much about how other countries do things. And that’s dangerous.

Following blindly and supporting blindly isn’t patriotism: it’s harmful to democracy. Learn and participate! Try to make it better. Be patriotic.

We’ll be really really interested to hear how patriotism is seen in our international readers’ countries!

Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!