In the last 12 years, we in the US seem to use the terms patriotism and nationalism very differently than from how I learned them. We use them angrily as smears against others who disagree with us. We use them as sermons, insinuating that an other somehow cares less for our community, does not properly love her neighbor, and deserves little consideration. We stick them into soundbites and aphorism so short that they become meaningless. We use them to justify xenophobia. This is not patriotism. This is not about having national spirit.
As a social scientist, I know why these things happen. It is not the first time these sorts of reactions have happened in our history. In the history of other nations. Fear makes people turn inward. It turns the world we see into one of us against them. It robs the ideas of patriotism and nationalism of their core, and twists them into shadows of what they ought to be.
Patriotism is not merely about fighting others in defense of our country. Patriotism is about extending the love of one’s family and tribe to care about our neighbors, our community, and our country in such a way that we are willing to defend them. Not because we share interests (though we do), but because we are one. Patriotism is the urge to serve our community and our country. Not by dying for each other, but dedicating our lives in service to one another.
National spirit is not just about hanging flags from the front porch and lampposts. It is not about red, white, and blue themed food and decorations. It is about extending the love of our ancestors and progeny to the ancestors and progeny of our communities. National spirit is the understanding that we, through our interactions, have developed a shared purpose, a shared history, and a shared culture. Even if another’s family came to our community after we did, through toiling together, or deciding to come here to toil and plow the same ground as us because they believe in the value our community.
It is from these concepts nationalism and patriotism came broader ideals of egalitarian and cosmopolitan humanitarianism. At there core should be the deep, soulful, collective unity that came from extending the love of “I” to “we” and expanding to all. As you go on thinking about patriotism and nationalism, don’t do it with with judgement on your lips, but with ears open. When you talk to someone who has a different idea of how what we should do, do not think of them as an enemy against you and yours. Remember that they are like you, stumbling about trying to make a living and trying to make our community better for all of us, just as you are. When you hear a person with a foreign accent or see a person with different cultured, do not immediately suspect them for being different. They made a conscious and costly decision to leave their lives behind, to come here and throw their lot in with us because they believe this is where the future lies for their family, their children, and their children’s children. They share the core belief with you that this community is worthwhile.
As you listen to their stories, you may find that though they live here, they still love their old homes, and that’s okay. Don’t go about thinking that they love their old homes and therefore must not actually belong here. Do children love their parents less when they meet their significant other? No, just as love of people is not a limited resource in that way, neither is love of community. In fact, if you listen closely, you may come to love their old home a little, too, for you’ll find that their love of their old home is often the same as ours. That their hopes and dreams for their family and community is the same as ours. Beneath the different skin, language, culture, and history we are the same: a people born onto a rock trying to make our way through life, and we are all in this together.