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?
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
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
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.