I should probably begin by telling you that I don’t consider myself patriotic. That may not sit well with many of you, but I am what I am and you know me—I refuse to pretend. I’m not unpatriotic, if that helps. I don’t burn flags or encourage anti-American extremists. I vote and I pay my taxes. But I don’t buy into the notion that my country and its citizens are somehow better, wiser, more deserving, or favored by the Almighty, an attitude I believe is often the at core of patriotism.
Patriotism is an overblown and overused word, if you ask me. Like “hero” or “inspiration,” the word patriot and all of its versions get tossed about like beach balls at Jimmy Buffett concerts. And like those other overused words, they are often attributed to people and actions in ways that are anything but appropriate.
Patriots, by definition, have some big kahunas. They are movers and shakers, the doers of courageous deeds, and are steadfastly dedicated to what they believe is the betterment of their country. They aren’t yes-men. They aren’t party loyalists. And they aren’t armchair activists.
They’re the folks who are willing to risk life, limb, and reputation to stand for change. To demand it. To take it, shake it, and accept nothing short of what they know needs to be done. They are revolutionists. Let me add that while patriotism is generally looked upon as a virtue, I think it’s important to note that the willingness to dedicate oneself to a life of action designed to bring to fruition ones vision for their country usually only looks appealing to those who share that same vision. Revolutionists are likely viewed as dangerous, extremist nutjobs by those with opposing opinions.
Sound familiar? Yes, those folks might be called patriots, too.
During election years, armchair activists ramp up their game. They tweet and Facebook like crazy in an effort to let their friends know just how fired up they are about the state of things. Some post day and night, leaving seemingly little time to tend their jobs and families. They go all in. If asked, I’d guess that many of them would puff out their chests and boast about their patriotism. They are doing something.
Here’s the thing, though. They’re not. For the most part, they aren’t doing diddlysquat beyond providing a giggle or groan from their friends. Facebook patriotism is like reading diet books while sitting on the couch eating cookies. It doesn’t get the job done.
Flag waving, anthem singing, and chest pounding aren’t particularly patriotic behaviors. They’re pageantry. Pageantry is nice, I suppose, as long as the work has been done. If not, it seems beyond inappropriate. It seems a little, well, pathetic. Gravy on a plate with no meat and potatoes beneath. Frosting on a cardboard cake.
I love my country. I do. And I feel incredibly blessed to have been born in a place where it’s safe for me to publicly post my opinions and start a piece out by declaring my lack of patriotism. But love of country does not a patriot make.
I tend to think in terms of world over country. Even the country I love, the one that affords me the right to sneer at it. I’ve said it before, but here’s my thinking on why it’s wrong to focus too much on country—it’s mostly an “us vs. them” thing. Call me a hippie, but I think we’re all part of us and there really isn’t any them.
Let me explain. If the goal is to look out for “us” and my country is more important than yours, it stands to reason that even within my country, there are levels of priority. My state matters more than yours. In my state, my town matters more than the others. Here in town, the folks on my street are of greater importance than those who live on other roads. Those who live at my address matter more than the people next door. And ultimately, making sure my own wants and needs are satisfied takes precedence over anyone else in my home.
Me, me, me, me, me. Ick. I can’t imagine a surer recipe for eliminating any chance at all for world peace than that.
Do I feel blessed to be an American? Absolutely. But that’s not superiority, the root of what most people call patriotism. It’s just plain dumb luck.
Written for this week’s GBE topic, “Patriotism.” If you’d like to blog with us, just clickety-click. All are welcome!