The word is so full of emotion in almost any culture that has experienced any level of nationalism. It is so full of weight, so well revered, so endowed with power, that people of all political stripes fall over themselves, and each other, to lay claim to it. “Patriotism” is one of the highest traits one can possess, at least so the story goes in our country. If you want to honor a neighbor you call her a patriot. If you want to revile them, you point out just how unpatriotic, at least in your eyes, they are. When things get heated in political discourse in our society you can count on one side, the other, or both, trotting it out. What exactly does that word mean though?
At the bare bones of it, it means “love of country.” This is somewhat ambiguous and certainly shallow. I love my country, does that make me a patriot? How do you even know who loves their country? How do you go about doing so? For some love of country is supporting the state no matter what. For others it is letting the world know the heights of our nation’s excellence. Others define it, in our representative democracy, forged in the fires of revolution and dissent, as standing up to authority. One’s definitions can even switch from one to the next, depending if your version of the good is being forwarded by our government.
I suppose the big question would be how one as an American defines it. Many use those easy examples above. For me, as an American, it is a little and none of any of them. To me, in our democracy, in which we, the people, are the sovereign, it is taking the time to be engaged. To me, one cannot call oneself a patriot if one does not “do politics.” Whether we have lived up to it or not, the myth of America, the story we tell ourselves, is that it is a country founded by the common man. It is a place where we are the leaders and those we send to government are the employees. To not do our duty as the sovereign and tell our custodians what we require of them is un-American in the extreme.
Our obligations to ourselves, to our neighbors, to this society, do not end in the ballot booth. Less than half of you even do that much. Our responsibility is to make ourselves aware, to listen to those who take the time to do the heavy lifting and leg work to make us aware, even when we do not agree with them. We are required, if we are to call ourselves “patriots” to write letters, send e-mails, and make phone calls to our elected officials. It is unacceptable to say to someone, when you are the sovereign, “I am not interested in politics.” Whether you want it or not, politics involve you, and you are not much of a patriot if you do not take at least a few minutes out of each day, much less a minute and a half when some “busy body” comes knocking on your door (and yes, this is inspired at least a little by my experiences as a canvasser) to learn and engage.
“Freedom is not free” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot. Those that like to spend the blood of young men to defend their wealth like to encourage us to use it. I don’t read that phrase the way they do though. To me it is not some shallow call to sacrifice your life. Freedom is something you have to work at, and if you don’t work at it, maybe you don’t deserve it. The patriot, however, does work at it, does deserve it, and even when they don’t agree with you, has discharged their duty, as a neighbor and a countryman. To do less, and to claim you love America, is to be disingenuous and self-defeating all in one stroke.
- The National Commission for Civic Education calls on Ghanaians to be patriotic (modernghana.com)
- HIstory of Patriots Day (slapioneer.wordpress.com)
- Do Not Label Me a Patriot (kingofgeeks89.wordpress.com)
- Cartoon: The Last Refuge of a Coward (englishblog.com)