I wasn't going to write anything today about the Fourth of July. It's too obvious a blog post to do. But then I came across a news article alleging that young adults tend to be less patriotic than older adults these days, and that's it's a generational thing, rather than a life stage phenomenon. The essay went on to say that there's an even greater commitment to freedom and equality and opportunity among young adults - founding values of our nation - but less commitment to the nation itself, or to common notions of patriotism.
Years ago, during a debate over patriotism that took place in the aftermath of the events on 9-11, 2001, I privately printed a little book for friends and clients called The Everyday Patriot: How to Be a Great American Now. It's message was that patriotism isn't supposed to be a large-scale version of tribalism at its worst, a nationalistic form of bellicose jingoism, an "us against them" mentality, or even a superior, exceptionalist mindset. It's meant to be about a commitment, to ideals that can be universal, yes, but also to an enterprise begun in this part of the world not that long ago, by historical standards.
Patria: Homeland. Love: Commitment. I see patriotism through the framing of our founders, as meant to be a commitment, or an engagement, of our better selves in an enterprise that, with all its flaws, is an attempt to enact principles of governance and social freedom that will allow people, as individuals, in families, and throughout communities, to flourish and have lives that are worthy and meaningful.
The essay I read today in the paper said that young people aren't as excited about the symbols of our nation as older adults tend to be. But, since when was patriotism primarily about flag pins, and flags, and certain songs, and parades and fireworks?
Symbols are always secondary to, and reflective of, realities, if they're any good at all. And patriotism is about the realities of commitment that I like to call "voting every day." I think that voting in every election is important, for several reasons. But I think it's just as important, if not more so, to vote every day with our time and attention, and efforts to make our little parts of this nation better - our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and businesses: That's what patriotism, at its best, is all about. It's about voting every day in a way that adds something a little positive to this big enterprise that is America, not in opposition to the rest of the world, but as a positive contribution to the rest of the world, as well. Anything less is a counterfeit of patriotism, and not the real thing at all.
So today, enjoy any celebrations that you do. And take a moment to ponder your own relationship to what's being celebrated. I hope I can also encourage you to reflect on ways that you can vote every day, and demonstrate that patriotic spirit that's behind all the best in our nation's history.