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61st Independence Day

Patriotism and Independence Day


Independence Day parade 30 years back

Around the dinner table in the suburb of Colombo where I grew up, my parents would point out at just the proper time in our social discussions that patriotism means loving our country and it also means working hard to make it more lovable. The flag, they would add, could take care of itself. This advice did not keep us from rushing down to Galle Face green to watch the annual Independence Day parade and gleefully wave the National flags. Commemoration of the nation's Independence Day was fun, and it made us feel good.

One important event on our Independence Day celebrations, since those days, was the two minutes silence to remember the patriotic men and women who fought for freedom, who sacrificed their youth, their health, and sometimes their lives, because their country asked. It was always a solemn moment for me. There was stillness in the air; all you could hear was the occasional clicking of camera shutters quite rightly recording the tribute for history. It was incredibly hard to describe the shared emotion, but it was almost tangible and could be read on every single person's face, a steely combination of patriotism and resolve.

It was a moment of truth when I experienced the real sense of patriotism which goes hand in hand with Independence of a country.

I often wonder whether it is different today. Has our today's younger generation understood what patriotism really means?

Threefold Meaning

In my opinion, it has a three-fold meaning. First, it means understanding the freedom to separate ourselves from personal ideologies and intellectually judge the full scope of an issue.

Then only we could find real solutions for the good of the whole country. Second, it means to determine ourselves to create a society in which we can perceive racial and religious groups through a satellite view, rather than a microscopic view.

Then only we could make value judgments based on what's good for the future of the country.

Third, it means recognizing that every type of thought and belief system of other groups have something to teach and to offer.

Then only our chances of creating real change for the betterment of the country will increase exponentially.

Ask an educated youth to explain what Patriotism is. Nine out of ten, the answer would be "love for the motherland." Is it simple as that? But, if you proceed along this point of view, patriotism mainly is an emotional disposition. It consists in feeling somehow 'proud' of the country we live in. Tragically, most of our people today have no sufficient idea of their country's history, ideological makeup, and other things that could lead one to be legitimately proud of it. Instead, their pride is a seemingly causeless sense of 'belonging'.

Ask a common man in the street why exactly he is proud of his country. If you can get any answer out of him at all, it will be insignificant.

What these people do not recognise is the fact that patriotism is not merely an emotional, but primarily an intellectual issue.

It does not merely consist in feeling "good" about one's country without giving reasons.

We should know what is good about our country, and reversely, we also should know what is bad about it-and why. Since 'good' and 'bad' are value judgments, patriotism thus concerns itself with values, and especially (but not exclusively) with political values.

Nature of values

So what is the nature of these values? Let us understand that men and women in a country do not live in a vacuum. Usually, they live together. A nation is not a mere aggregation of individuals, but integration of separate groups. Several individuals are integrated into one group by means of a social order-specific cultural, economic and especially political institutions such a common language, set of values or national 'sense of life', and many more that ensure a peaceful and cooperative co-existence of men. But the specific nature is such that not every type of social group is able to maintain a stable and enduring nation. If a group is created that embody principles which are contrary to the demands of the country's benefit, this group will slowly fragment, disintegrate and fall apart. If the leaders of the group advocate and put into practice such doctrines as terrorism and dictatorship, the group consequently will break down in bloody warfare sooner or later. LTTE is a classic example. Thus, the important thing is to advocate and put into practice the right principles, when translated into specific groups of people, are capable of integrating into a peaceful and cooperative society.

I believe that a person who advocates and strives to put into practice rational principles which work to keep integrated the society he chooses to live in, is a patriot. If we proceed from this point of view, patriotism is an attitude towards the social order, an attitude aiming at replacing bad institutions and defending good ones.

The question then arises - what is required in order to practice the virtue of patriotism? First, it is necessary for every aspiring patriot to have a basic understanding of how a society works, what policies keep it together, and what destroys it.

Education in civics

Every patriotic citizen should aim at acquiring a basic education in civics, political philosophy, moral philosophy and history. Second, every aspiring patriot should keep himself informed, not about every occurrence, but about the general trends of development and most important issues his society is affected by.

After having acquired such knowledge, it is necessary for him to take action by speaking his mind and pronouncing judgment, whenever it is necessary. Patriotism is a powerful idea, and one that should be defined by citizens, not by their rulers alone.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. It's like no other place, diverse though it is small.

The people are basically talented and good. Then, why is the patriotism failing? What is going wrong? We have lost our focus. We have not truly understood what patriotism is. That is what is going wrong.

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