In the 5 centuries since the term “patriotism” was coined, the word has reinvented itself many times. Traced back to 1590s France, it originally meant brotherhood and union among countrymen. A positive word, it was centered on a core concept of loyalty in community. By the mid-1700s it was redefined for another purpose. Where it once meant unwavering faithfulness to one’s country, it came to refer to individuals who were critical of the prevailing government. The word became in the eye of the beholder. From there, the term has experienced flips and turns over centuries. Associated with left and right, obedience and rebellion. So it’s not surprising we are sometimes culturally confused by it.
Here are some reflections written in Lexington and Winnipeg – and the air in between the two cities – on Independence Day 2018…
I’ve always seen the 4th of July as a follow up holiday – the second act of a two part ceremony. On July 4th, Americans celebrate our successful venture to become a nation. More specifically, the document that declared our Independence. Born in Lexington Massachusetts, the town where the American Revolution started, I was raised in a local culture of earnest remembrance – focused on the path we took to get to nationhood – the means to the ends. Massachusetts celebrates Patriot’s Day (April 19th) to commemorate our founders’ courage to stand up to oppression, no matter the odds. A few months later on July 4th, we throw a party for the nation that was born from that courage. Bookend holidays.
So much transpired between April 19, 1775 and July 4, 1776 and so much still needed to happen after the declaration. Our work to build a nation had just begun, really. We continue to see the effects of decisions made then. It is the in betweens and afterwards that is the landscape of American Patriotism – of what it has meant and what it means to be a Patriot.
In the 1700s, being a “patriot” was a dangerous proposition. It was an unstable time – colonists had managed to land, set up lives, and survive a generation or two in the new world, but things were not at all solid. Seeking to protect themselves from an untenable situation, and in pursuit of fairness and freedom, a minority of people were the first to stake a claim that change needed to happen. At any cost.
Early American patriotism was rooted in vulnerability. Our founders were scared, terrified in fact. They were not self-righteous. They weren’t even sure if they were right. There was no library, no internet, no fact checker, and no one to tell them if history would bear out on their side. It took months to find out if there had been a misunderstanding, months to confirm if the king meant what was ordered, or if orders weren’t misconstrued. The first patriots to step on the Lexington common in the wee hours of April 19th were everyday people making their best guess. They trusted their neighbors and their neighbors’ neighbors, few of whom grew up together. They didn’t know if what they did would make things better, but they were pretty sure it couldn’t make it worse. And it *might* help. That was incentive enough.
Life had become intolerable. They chose an unknown evil over the known evil. They met, they trained, they prayed. There seemed literally no chance of success and they risked it all anyway. In a time when living in America was about survival, and making it through more winters than those who arrived before them was still a new phenomena, they put an ideal, a dream, ahead of safety and security.
This is a very humble brand of courage, this patriotism we started with… We have inherited that – it is in our fabric. Those who embody that today are the people I consider true patriots.
What I’ve learned so far about patriotism:
- Courage requires vulnerability – fear of unknown and proceeding anyway for the greater good.
- Patriots believe in ripple effects, their work is never done – sometimes the job is small, and sometimes it asks for everything a person has to give.
- Sacrifice does not mean martyrdom, but it does mean you might not witness the impact of your courage. You might see a glimmer of the direction you’ve nudged things, but patriots are rarely the beneficiaries of their heroism.
- Pride must come after humility, not before or in place of it.
- Patriotism knows when to be quiet and when to be loud. And it is loud only when volume is in service to the cause, never the individual.
- There is a difference between patriotism, independence and freedom. The latter two are about the self. Patriotism is about “us.”
- Our country was deliberately designed with protections against greed and dominance of power – to ensure fairness and equality. It was an experiment. It doesn’t work just because we said it would. We have to tend it every day.
- Belief in the nation’s promise means believing we have not yet arrived. Believing we can be better. That we can always improve.
- Our ability to disagree respectfully is central to our national character. It is the source of our dignity. We are at our best when we exhibit it, and at our worst when we forget it.
This Independence day, I have a prayer of gratitude for patriots.
(You know who you are.)
Thank you. You enable us to feel that our country can still be TRUSTed. You don’t let the constant barrage of naysayers take your sense of America away. You are unwilling to let flaws outweigh our triumphs. You are unwilling to let fear take hold. You won’t let difference divide us. You will always find a way to win, even if winning doesn’t look like what we thought it would.
You believe in the original hope of this country – which is to belong together, to be proud of what we belong to, to live equally and treat one another fairly, and to use words and actions that live up to that promise.
You know what the beautiful thing is? Patriotism is not just American. At Market Monkeys, we represent artists from across the world. We are so lucky to witness each artist’s love for their nations and regions of origin, and their love for where they reside now when they are not on tour. Each instance of fidelity has its own brand of humble pride and kinship, warm sentimental attachments, rituals and shared ethics. We can relate to one another’s patriotism – vulnerability, courage and loyalty. Americans don’t have a monopoly on it. We are all on this journey together.