Born In the U.S.A.

July 01, 2021

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We are heading into the 4th of July weekend. The pinnacle of summer and the beloved celebration of our country and what it stands for. So today’s song choice is obvious – The Boss and Born in the U.S.A. (link provided in case you didn’t automatically hear it in your head…)

As I reflect on this holiday and stuff that has been happening lately, I’m wondering — what is patriotism?  Can we define it? Or do we just know it when we see it? Can we teach it? Is it something we need to practice to be good at?

Is this patriotism?

Is this?

What about this?

Is this it?

How about this?

Webster defines patriotism as “the love for or devotion to one’s country.”  I like that word – devotion. It has intensity.

I believe we must have a strong sense of patriotism to have a strong and thriving civically engaged country. I think that means we must identify it — teach it — practice it – and nurture it.

And yet patriotism seems to be getting a bad wrap these days.  It’s becoming political in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Some wrap themselves in the flag, and in doing so claim they are patriotic, using the flag as a political shield. While others, seem to want to tear down patriotism as unnecessary, out of date and sentimental.

WHOA!  Both of those perspectives freak me out.

I think it matters how we define patriotism and practice it, so I’m going to take a shot at it.

For me, patriotism is this:

  • We are all in the same boat on the open ocean. The boat is our country.  Our success of getting to our destination safely is not by chance (although I do recommend prayer…). There are many dangers and things working against us. But we have the power to affect not only how we get to the destination but the experience we have along the way.
  • Now, you can choose to get out of the boat – but then your options are pretty limited. You can try to go it alone in the water… with the sharks…
  • You can try to hop on another boat… but the captain of that boat sets the rules and you won’t have a say.
  • Or you can stay in this boat where you have freedom and an ability to participate in the direction and culture of the boat. But with that freedom comes responsibilities that every individual in the boat must carry out.

Okay, so the boat analogy may be a little bit weak, but you get my point (and if you liked where this was going then you can see the long version here) . If you accept that we are in the same boat, then what is it is about patriotism that we should teach and practice?

Here are my top 3 thoughts:

  1. Patriotism is first and foremost about recognizing our interdependence. We are in this together. Let’s stop trying to prove that one team loves the country more than the other team. It’s not true and it’s not helpful. There are not two boats competing to win by getting to the finish line first. We are all in the same boat….and the finish line is the success of our nation and we all have a stake in that success.
  2. Patriotism is the LOVE of self-governance. Collectively deciding how we will maintain, steer and manage our boat. It can be frustrating. We won’t always “win” or get our way. There will be compromises. But being patriotic means we value what’s best for the whole country over the wants of a single individual. If we do not cherish, nurture and succeed in self-governance then much of what we hold dear will be lost.
  3. Patriotism is the FIERCE defense of the values we share, like liberty, justice and equality. These are fundamental values of the people who built the boat, many of whom died to preserve and protect them, regardless of political ideology. If we lose our commitment to these foundational values we will be rudderless and adrift.

Having said that, we must be honest and open about the fact that we have made massive errors in the practice of these values – as individuals and as a government. The consequences of those errors have been staggering and caused generational trauma to people in our boat – some sitting right next to us.  We must do the hard work of understanding those errors and their consequences and finding ways to course correct. But the bottom line is that as patriotic people, we believe the values are still fundamentally sound and worth fighting to get right.

For me, devotion to my country starts with my being dedicated to these 3 things. And I strongly believe we need to start doing a better job of teaching what it means to be both American and patriotic. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the teaching of history and civics. Here is one recent piece that I recommend. This is a conversation we definitely need to have.

As Americans we are uniquely positioned in the world. Freedom, as protected by our Constitution, has made us the most prosperous and innovative country on earth. The patriotism we practice and teach should be proud and optimistic. It should not be angry or violent or determined to tear down others who share and have equal right to the land that we love.

Our boat is not perfect, and oh is it easy to dwell on its many imperfections!!  But the other options are far, far inferior.

Being “born in the U.S.A.” and/or getting to live, work and thrive here, is a great privilege worthy of being passed on to next generations and those who aspire to be Americans.  That is what I am thankful for, and devoted to, on this Independence Day holiday.