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Patriotism and Progress

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The love of many Americans for their country is no small thing. They are willing to fight and die to protect the land of their birth. They glorify it in songs. And they wear it with pride on their bumpers and T-shirts.

Love of that magnitude is a potent force. Political campaigns from Republican to Democratic to third parties attempt to harness that love and ride the swell of emotion to victory. It has become a badge of honor for political candidates to wear their patriotism with pride.

The only problem is that the love that drives much patriotism has become dangerously partial. Useful critiques of our country and its policies are seen as anti-patriotic rather than an expression of a higher kind of love. The straight truth is often banished from the table or viewed with disdain. When unquestioned loyalty is confused with true patriotism, we begin to undermine the possibility of the country progressing still further.

Love is a force that calls us to greater wholes - a bigger vision of ourselves, a more committed relationship with another, a more selfless mission, a deepened sense of compassion for those who are not quite like us. True love embraces the moment but also propels us forward. Love is not static but dynamic, spiraling us towards ever-greater levels of intimacy, creativity, and adventure.

Think for a moment about a teacher who had a big impact on your life. I would wager that it was not the teacher who let you do whatever you wanted. Those teachers tend to be popular but not influential. The high impact teacher more often cares deeply enough to call students to live into greater, nobler, and more selfless visions of themselves. They help their students stretch into greater maturity. They expand the student's vision and goad them into excellence.

These influential teachers don't usually make their love contingent upon our achievements. They embrace us for who we are, right now, with all our shortcomings and fears. But they also hold a bold picture of who we can become. That's what differentiates a great teacher from a mediocre one - an engaged love that calls us into our greatest vision of our self.

Patriotism that consists of flag waving and protecting the status quo is a bit like the "popular" teacher - easy on us in the moment but undermining of our potential. What America needs now is a deeper kind of progressive patriotism based upon a profound appreciation of the noble parts of America's history that nonetheless does not shy away from facing current levels of corruption, deception, and misdeeds. In facing America's shadowy truths, though, progressive patriots need to look more deeply than the surface problems and see the noble striving at the core of our country.

Such a patriotism begins to access a level that I imagine as the country's soul - its core calling, dharma, or destiny. Patriotism that shies away from rigorous truthtelling remains on the surface, relating to our country as a stranger rather than intimate family. A more full-spectrum kind of patriotism is like a key that turns the lock of our country's innermost secrets. Without it, intelligent, rational critiques of policies, structures, and programs often fail.

To change America, we must first love it. But once we've established that loving relationship, we must then champion an even greater, more mature version of our country. Even if one believes that we are the greatest country on earth, we are not nearly so great today as we could be tomorrow. That recognition is at the root of progress.

Conservatives have often erred on the side of patriotic pride that reinforces the status quo and blinds us to the next higher possibility. They can become rigid and close-minded. Liberals have often dwelt in the critiques to such an extent that they no longer feel authentic love for their country. Their voices can become strident and bitter. Both approaches hold us back from a deeper kind of relationship with our country that is based in a love that transcends dichotomies to embrace the truth of where we are -- including all our failures, inadequacies, and problems -- while still passionately calling us to our highest potential.

Our country is still young - a late adolescent among civilizations. In relationship to this young adult of a country, we need to take the stance resembling influential teachers, loving our country where it is while also calling it to still greater roles of leadership, service, honor, and creativity. That is when patriotism and progress can go hand in hand.

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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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