What is Patriotism?

When I ask about the idea of patriotism, people seem to fall into one of two camps. There are those that jump up waving the flag, proud of who we are as a nation. They, unashamed and unabashed, are quick to say that they love their country and make no apologies for it. How anyone could not be a cheering patriot is beyond their comprehension.
On the other hand, there are those that react as if a preacher had just asked about their religious beliefs. They cringe slightly uncomfortably, mumble something and try to change the subject - or they launch into an angry diatribe about how screwed up the country is! No way, in their opinion, could they ever be a patriot.
I offer that we are all patriots - but some do not recognize it as readily as others.
Quite simply, patriotism is loving and caring for your country. How can you not love the country of your adoption or birth? It is as easy and natural as loving your own parents or children.
As a parent, I love my children - period. I may not always love what they say or support what they do - but I love them. I can argue with them, I can tell them they are ruining their lives, I can be ashamed or proud - but I love them just the same.
I grew up during the 60’s when patriotism seemed to go out of style for those that disagreed with governmental policies. Dissenters were told, “America - Love it or Leave it” by bumper stickers of that era. I honestly saw this printed on a flag just two days ago while walking down the road. Hasn't it always really meant “Support the United States governmental policy or get out!" Therefore, I have never agreed with those words for my definition of patriotism.
You can be patriotic and:
Never wave a flag.
Never sing a patriotic song.
Never stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
You can be patriotic and:
Disagree with national policy.
Never serve in the military.
Protest wrongs trying to make things right.
This country was build on dissent and dissenters. It is all there, just read the history.
Yes, it is great to wave the flag. It is an honor to serve in the armed forces. I still enjoy covering my heart during the Star Spangled Banner. Yet as I walk across this country, I wish to hear differing political views. How boring things would be if but one flavor was offered. I value differences. I want to hear from you - anyone - just have an opinion!
I believe the real enemy to our country is not “out there” but rather right here at home - apathy. An apathy caused by feelings of disassociation and futility shared by too many Americans today. This country was founded on civic participation and we, as citizens, must continue to engage or the system will no longer serve us. We cannot afford to abandon our civic responsibilities. I believe that if each does but a small part, great things can happen.
Beware of those who grab the flag as if it were their own. No one group holds a monopoly on patriotism.  Patriotism is not defined by cheering loudly, waving a bigger flag, or singing praise with the highest notes. It is simply loving your country and participating with others to help move this great nation forward.
"Has anyone seen my flag?"


  1. I was brought up to think of patriotism as inseparable from political activism that supported democracy. My father wrote a great article back in the early 1950s on "Democracy: A social power analysis" (easy to find on Google). But I was considered a lefty and a troublemaker in high school. And I was a draft resister in the late 1960s. I heard of a survey in which excerpts of the Declaration of Independence were read to ordinary people on the street (e.g., it is the duty of the citizens to overthrow government that does not serve their needs), and they thought it was a Communist document!!!

    Nowadays I think of patriotism as being about helping my country as a whole be heard -- not just part-isan voices -- and enabling citizens to generate collective intelligence and community wisdom together. This has a lot to do with listening (like you do, and like Fran Peavey who sat on benches in other countries with a sign "American WIlling to Listen") and making sure people feel heard. I once heard dialogue described as "People truly listening to people truly speaking." When people are well heard, they tend to soften and listen better. Then everyone can think together SO much better, and actually discover things no one came in the room with. When that happens democracy works like a dream!

    I treasure the Constitution AND I value its ability to be amended and Jefferson's belief that it must be reevaluated and reworked at least every generation. The Founders didn't have a clue of what was coming up 200 years in the future, and some of them (like Jefferson) were very aware of that. We have problems, opportunities, and resources they never dreamed of. Our ability to generate real collective wisdom (even though we do it so seldom) is unprecedented and could be enshrined in new political forms that complement the sturdy forms they provided us with.

    I have tremendous respect for you walk. When I was on the cross country Great Peace March in 1986, our march walked about 15 miles a day. Although I only walked about a tenth of the days (since I was part of the March's governance and communication systems), you seem to double that March's collective average. The out-of-the-box heroism you are embodying attracts attention and energy to something extremely important, something too often taken for granted and not thought about. Thanks, Ray. A lot.

    Tom Atlee
    who came by your Eugene home during your brief stop there to ask for some yogurt from you and Cynthia (whom I had just met that day). Bon courage!

    PS: I remember walking on the power line road through the Mojave Desert between LA and Las Vegas on the Great Peace March, hot, tired, dry dry dry, when a station wagon came bouncing up the dirt road and stopped in the middle of the mass of marchers. A stranger opened the back, and began serving us ice cream cups. It seems a lot of people really love cause-based walkers!!! :)

  2. I think some people cringe at questions or statements about patriotism because of what (or rather, who) the term is associated with in popular culture and mainstream media. If I were to ask someone about their patriotism, or patriotism in general, it seems like these days they could easily mistake me for a war cheerleader or a certain brand of activist with particularly narrow views. Thus, they could be hesitant to engage me for fear of walking into something a little more taxing than just a simple and friendly conversation about what should be a pretty harmless and positive topic.

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