When my daughter was little, she used to sleep with copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As incredible as it seems, some of her favorite books were about the American Revolution. Her favorite vacation was visiting the National Archives and seeing the founding documents. Not that I ever tried to make her so patriotic. I never taught her, but she observed. Her patriotism came only through years of constant exposure to love of country and of others. I’ve found that patriotism is contagious if you expose children to it enough.

Sadly, too many people have associated patriotism with racism and jingoism or with only one party. This obscures the real meaning of patriotism. A patriot was originally merely a fellow countryman, from Latin patrios meaning “of one father,” or “fatherland.” In other words, a patriot is one who looks on other Americans as their brothers born of the same land. For lands composed of many ethnicities, it has no specific racial meaning since all are born of the same father – our nation. Neither is it hyper-nationalism or hatred of other peoples. Rather, it’s a special love of the people of your country as brothers and sisters and of your land as a father. You don’t stop loving others, but you especially love family. Those who hate their own land or the peoples in it are, in this sense, guilty of patricide and fratricide, for you can’t love others if you hate your brother.

If patriotism is about brotherhood, those who fight our nation’s wars are brothers and sisters defending our family. True patriots recognize them as brothers who are sacrificing for the good of all. At the same time, patriots love all who work to feed us, clothe us, and protect us. Rather than hating the symbols of our nation, the patriot loves the flag, the anthem, and the founding documents as children love the names of their parents and their family history. This doesn’t necessarily mean always agreeing with everything the government does. The government is not the land or the people. Nor does it mean never protesting what some people do. There are arguments in all families, but you keep your disagreements within the family and do not simply disown your relatives because they take a different point of view.

How, then, do we teach our children the true meaning of patriotism? It is through hundreds of daily reminders. When you see someone in uniform, whether they are military or civilians, you show them due respect as brothers who are sacrificing themselves for you. Yet, you also should honor all citizens as brothers and sisters who are as important to our survival as yourself, from workers at the local market to garbage collectors. You should avoid harming or insulting others, whether through racism or rioting, for they are your brothers. When you see the symbols of our nation, you should stop and show proper respect. Too many people get in a hurry and forget to stop when they see a flag being raised or lowered. You should educate your children on founding documents and institutions. All strong families learn their history and know from whence they came. Each time you stop and honor your country and its people, you are teaching your children patriotism. It takes daily and constant exposure to the right attitude, for which your example is essential.

Most people want their children to be patriotic and respectful of the country, but many are surprised when they learn that their children have been taught to hate their own nation. The solution is to expose your children often and early to patriotic love of their country and its people. Parents must model patriotism if they expect the same. If you treat others as your brothers, you will be surprised how infectious patriotism can be.

© 2020 J.D. Manders


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