I Pledge Allegiance ~ How to Serve?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt I Pledge Allegiance.
Are you patriotic? What does being patriotic mean to you?

According to the merriam-webster dictionary,

patriotic means “inspired by patriotism”, which is “love for or devotion to one’s country”.

When you take this narrow definition, it’s quite easy to understand that everyone can be patriotic. I’ve met very few people in my life who have no love or devotion to their country. And I’ve travelled extensively though probably much less than many other people.

Now let’s add a layer of complexity… what’s “one’s country?”
Is it the country you were born in?
My very first international relations class, the teacher asked us to use 5 words to define ourselves. Interestingly we almost all used our nationality as a first word. As far as I was concerned, I was in Ireland, so it went without saying that I should clarify that I was French first since that was the perfect excuse for my poor English 😛 . I didn’t really think about it as a defining element of my life, at least not consciously, but it is. In many ways.

Or is it the country you choose to live your life in?
I became a Canadian citizen last March and to say I was thrilled is an understatement. I’d been living in the country since 2004, met my husband there and felt a part of the Canadian society. I wanted to be involved in the decision making of the country through my privilege of voting and it had been a long time coming (I applied for citizenship in April 2011 with a completed file sent in November of that year). To say that I felt Canadian on the day I received my citizenship would be lying but I’d been feeling of Canada as “my country” more than I did France at that time. Yet, there still were elements of the French society that I thought would make sense.

And that is the second layer of complexity: what is a “country”? It’s actually more than one layer. That particular question actually raises several.

Again according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a country is:

  • 1. an indefinite usually extended expanse of land : region
  • 2. a : the land of a person’s birth, residence, or citizenship
    b : a political state or nation or its territory
  • 3. a : the people of a state or district : populace
    b : jury
    c : electorate 2
  • 4. rural as distinguished from urban areas

Is a country merely an “extended expanse of land” or “territory”, i.e. a geographical space ensconced within borders?
Even that is a complexity when you think about it, because really even these borders aren’t necessarily ‘natural’ – for lack of a better word. They’re the results of politics, conflict or negotiation. So geography can’t be just that. Although to be honest, I did love and truly miss Canada’s great expanses of wildness and the wonderful feeling of being in the middle of nature. In France, I love that you can experience different sceneries within a couple of hours of each other: be in the Alps in the morning and at the beach in the afternoon.
Canada and France are beautiful countries that are easy to love for those who were born or choose to live there. I know I’ve experienced both. These are only example because I lived in Ireland for a year, and that’s country I fell in love with quite literally. Germany was phenomenal as well, Australia was superb and Japan was mind-blowing. But the latter and a few others I only visited as a tourist so I’m not counting them as countries I could feel “devotion” towards. Not in the same sense as France and Canada.
It’s hard for us here in the West to encompass the idea that such geographic space can evolve. We haven’t had changes in our borders in quite a while… but that actually raise the question: what would you do to keep the geographic space that you love?

Is a country a “nation”?
The concept of Nation or nation is complex in itself… But in short, it’s the people. It’s also the commonality of language, of race (its objective definition) combined with a shared memory and common interest (subjective definition of the nation). It never dies: a little like “the king’s dead, long live the king. It’s a sense of continuity. The nation can never be destroyed. It’s always there… And it includes culture and history. There’s also a will to come together as a society and work out a social contract.

So that’s where it could be interesting to discuss further. Can one not like their country because of its people? And I’m talking about the people you live with every day. Yes sure. Many people will tell you that French are arrogant and think of their culture, food, wine etc. as the best. I guess that can be said of a lot of different countries. Why it stuck with the French? I don’t know. Probably because French are proud to be French and voice it. But so far as I know, so are Canadians. And I’m proud to call myself both 🙂 .

Is a country a “political state”?
That’s where things become really complicated on top of being complex. You probably know that a sovereign state is defined by 1) borders (our geographic space), 2) a population (our nation) and 3) a government.
The reason I’m going there is because it’s hard for any citizen to dissociate the country from its governing system. That’s when you find that people don’t like their country: it’s not that they do, it’s that they don’t like or fear the government.
Can you love your country if you don’t like your government? And if you don’t like the government, can you express your love for your country?

So in this light, what is patriotism?
I tend to think that being patriotic isn’t the same as supporting a government or its policies. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s about questioning the status quo and try to make your country better. So while I believe sincerely that one must obey the laws, one should question those that make no sense. Provoke a debate, ask question, get involved. A law makes no sense? Question it, bring it to your municipal counsellor, or to the House of Reps, one way or another.
Being patriotic doesn’t mean saying yes or no to everything that the government decides. It means going to the heart of what your country means to you and defend your ideas.
Sure not everyone will have the same ideas, but we have a right to discuss them. After all, we are lucky enough to live in democracies, where the Nation is supposedly at the core of the political state. I am not naive enough to believe that it is truly the case anymore, because it’s been quite a while since governments have stopped serving the people to serve themselves and their own continuity. But I don’t despair. I hope that someday we might reclaim our true democracy. I don’t know how it will happen; I sincerely hope that debate and discussion will steer us in the right direction but what I see happening in the world these days isn’t supporting such peaceful and naive view.

Being a patriot doesn’t mean saying and thinking your country is the best in everything it does, it’s rather seeing the potential it has to serve the common interest and help its population to thrive (and I don’t necessarily mean economically) and help it achieve it.
There is one thing I’ve never understood in all my years in Canada. It’s something that I’ve seen more among Americans from the US but Canadians do it too – not me though I admit – and that is why sporting a flag of one’s country at your house makes you more of a patriot than not sporting it? That it should hang in official buildings, that I get, but why at home or on your car? If someone should be kind enough to enlighten me on this matter I would be grateful.


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