The dictionary defines a patriot as someone who loves, supports and defends a country. The root of this word goes back to the Latin “pater,” which means father. So it must be that the relationship between a patriot and his or her country is similar to the way parents love, support and defend their children.
As a parent, grandparent and retired teacher, I've learned that good parents don't allow a child to do whatever that child wants to do. They know that isn't love at all.
Children reared that way fail to learn that they are not the center of the universe, that other people also have feelings and rights. In the same way, true patriots look critically at what is happening in their country and speak up when they see things that don't fulfill the promise it holds.
Patriots believe that America is great when it is good – a responsible citizen of the world; respectful of other countries and of all people; unafraid to oppose tyranny and bigotry – even if there is a cost involved – leading the way toward making this world more just and more free. Throughout history, patriots have acted to help end slavery, to promote women's suffrage, to protect the civil rights of all citizens and to promote numerous other social justice causes. The work of these patriots was often hazardous, but it made this country greater than it was before, a place that people all over the world believed offered hope of a better life for themselves.
Today there are many people proclaiming that America's interests are more important than those of anybody else in the world. Care for our planet has decreased in importance. Some of our leaders have shamefully belittled people who are different from them. Concern for those in need has become subservient to concern for profit.
Many of us Americans believe that our values and choices should be based on what our faith teaches us. We need to consider very seriously whether the actions and attitudes I have just listed above reflect those principles.
Carl Schurz, who is often credited with coining the phrase “my country right or wrong,” actually said: “My country right or wrong: when right, to keep her right; when wrong, to put her right.” He also said “I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves ... too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism.” We need to listen to this voice of reason now.
We have just celebrated the Fourth of July, a good time for us to be reminded of the definition of a patriot and of our individual responsibility to speak up, boldly and with a civil tone, when we see things that we need to do to make our country truly great again – to contact government officials, to vote and to object when we hear or see wrong being done in our presence. That's what a patriot must do.
Ann Kreamer is a retired teacher with the Canterbury School.