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May 18, 2013

On the Go: Patriotism doesn't mean keeping status quo

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The Daily Star

---- — I’ve been labeled many things, but when anti-American and unpatriotic came into the picture recently I was surprised. I know I have some controversial opinions, but since when does that equate to not loving America? I’m a born and raised American kid, and I love America. 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what “I love America” and “patriotism” mean to people. It seems that I should want to join the military; believe whole-heartedly in the American dream; adore capitalism; hate any collective economic systems; study, promote and believe Americanized history, fear Islam, and generally be a cookie cutter. This brings into focus a huge contradiction. I am socially expected to be in the cookie cutter while living in a country of immigrants, change, media and diversity. Hmmmm. Isn’t it wonderful to be the sort of cookies that can create their own shapes? Chocolate chip, anyone?

One part of loving a country is realizing and appreciating all that a country has done for you. I’ve grown up knowing that I’ll have an education, that bridges generally won’t collapse, that when I dial 911 someone will be there to help, that there is a fire department nearby, that if at any point needs can’t be met there are systems in place to help people. I’m blessed to be able to have these expectations. I understand that paying taxes and being required to help isn’t fun, but seeing hungry children, ignorant people, poverty and suffering is certainly not fun either. Even if you’ve never been directly assisted in a way such as food stamps ,everyone has enjoyed benefits like having police, firefighters and paved roads. 

Some people seem to think that loving America means you must ignore and hide any and all flaws. This is so wrong! When you’re involved in children’s lives, you see the kids do good things and bad things. They take, they give, they hit, they hug, they spit, they smile. You try to help them learn right from wrong. You correct their mistakes and help them grow so hopefully next time they won’t make the same mistake. You don’t write them off and give up or lock them away.

It’s similar with America. America does a lot of right and a lot of wrong. Each and every citizen has a responsibility to help America grow so these wrongs can be avoided in the future. Editing these wrongs out of our history books won’t make them go away. They’ll fester in obscurity and evolve with ambiguity. Raising a child isn’t always a sunny meadow. Neither is being a citizen. 

I would love to see more transparency in America. If we could evaluate the past factually and without bias we could understand better where we are now. If we had a better understanding of where we are now we could be better prepared for our future. To me, loving America means that I see her warts and decide to always strive to make her better and love her in spite of her flaws without ignoring them.   

The term “American values” has been thrown around a lot lately. What is an American value? I was deemed anti-American because I don’t stand for the pledge and I have pacifistic opinions; basically because I differ from the masses. But wait! Isn’t that the basis for America and all of her history? America can be summed up as one big jumble of “disagreers.” 

Some people in Europe got fed up and sailed across the Atlantic because they disagreed. The original colonies banded together because they disagreed with England. America was born from a bunch of angry people who disagreed with the status quo and decided to change it. We fought a civil war because our country couldn’t agree. In a few years I’ll be able to vote because some people disagreed with our laws and decided to change them. If Americans never had disagreements there simply would be no America.   

Dictionary.com defines patriotism as devoted love, support and defense of one’s country; national loyalty. I love my country by acknowledging all it’s done for me. I support it by paying taxes, voting (Someday… When I’m an “adult,” but that’s an entirely different article.) and exercising hard-won rights. I defend my country by supporting and promoting American ideals such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but I do it without violence. I show loyalty by embracing America and looking for ways to improve her.   

Some people think that patriotism and a love for your country is something you’re born with. I think you need to take a hard look and decide for yourself. You wouldn’t adore a teacher just because you had to take her class so why would you love a country just because you were born there? I consider myself patriotic, and I’ve stopped to ponder what loving my country really means to me. What does patriotism mean to you?

Kate Ahearn is a sophomore at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/teentalk