It is inevitable: every election, the refrain, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” is tossed about. Spoken by every side, this particular retort is not new, nor is it unexpected. It is, however, severely misguided and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to have a belief system. After all, an untried conviction is little more than superstition.
What do beliefs have to do with the current political climate? Everything. Nearly everything has become a matter of political interest, thus belief systems play heavily into the voting decisions of the men and women in America. Frequently, for instance, a political party becomes synonymous to a religion, or a political party becomes expected of individuals who ascribe to a certain culture. Although the stereotype may be true of some people, most people are far more nuanced and complicated in their beliefs and decisions.
This is where a very real problem lies: aligning yourself with a political party purely because it is expected of you is problematic. Persisting in voting for a political candidate you are not comfortable with simply because they claim the banner of your chosen political party is dangerous. Failing to evaluate your loyalty to certain types and labels is downright irresponsible.
As many leaders and authority figures will agree, beliefs falter easily if there is no real conviction behind them. Following a political party because it is the one you grew up with, or it is the party your friends claim, or any reason apart from emphatically upholding the platforms the party stands for will result in a country leaving you (and countless others) deeply dissatisfied.
Question, Question… and Question Again
Questioning yourself is not an easy task. Unfortunately, many people are content to skate through life, adhering to the beliefs and ideas they grew up with. Even more unfortunate is the fact that this reinforces the tendency we humans have to let tradition rule the day rather than courage or conviction.
I am guilty of taking my beliefs for granted. Growing up, I adopted the political party whose platforms were typically associated with my religious beliefs. Platforms, though, offer little insight into a political party, as most platforms are hot-button topics, rather than the meat and guts of American politics. After a careful, deliberate (and difficult) evaluation of my beliefs, my values, and the needs of the world around me, it became abundantly clear: the political party I had always claimed was in no way the party I wanted to be associated with, and was in no way representative of the complex reasons the United States is an incredible place to live.
Bear in mind: this kind of evaluation is painful and uncomfortable. Perhaps you know yourself and your background well, and your beliefs are resounding in their clarity. If you are like the majority of people, however, you might find yourself doing an about-face on unexpected issues, and facing turmoil in your workplace, your religion, or your relationships.
Although it isn’t easy, the solution is quite simple: question. Question yourself, and question others. For instance, someone who has identified as a Republican all of his or her life might feel deep discomfort with the direction the party has taken within the past couple of years. Rather than keeping quiet, that person has an obligation to question the party, question the party’s leaders, and demand more. Patriotism doesn’t mean blindly praising your party or country; patriotism means continually striving to make your country the best it can be.
Patriotism and Demands
A dry definition of patriotism reads, “Vigorous support for one’s country.” Contrary to popular belief, support is not synonymous to permissive behavior. Instead, support means to help or bear weight. As citizens of the United States, patriotism does not mean blindly following a leader whose values are not in line with our own; it actually means the opposite. Supporting the United States means giving assistance where it is needed, and bearing the weight of the country’s needs. In short, patriotism means continually pushing the United States to improve and grow, rather than sitting idly as it stagnates and falters.
Tradition is a dangerous enemy, primarily because it hides under the guise of doing what works. Just as people are perpetually and continually evolving, a country must continually change and shift to match the needs of its citizens. Although countless men and women around the world do not have the luxury of pushing their leaders toward improving and changing, the United States is built on the backs of citizens, and citizens who push themselves to continue growing and learning through challenging the status quo will be responsible for the continued strength and development of the United States.
Get Comfortable with Discomfort
Pushing yourself (and others) is not an easy task. Persistently calling your senator’s office to demand change is extremely intimidating, and often feels fruitless. But as recent actions have demonstrated, every little bit helps. Voting itself might prove difficult. Keeping abreast of current events might also be troubling, as a quick glance into the current state of American politics is frustrating at best for many, and downright terrifying for some.
That being said, no matter which side of the lines you stand on, and no matter what you believe, being involved and being informed breeds some amount of discomfort. Speaking out about your beliefs might result in alienating yourself from friends and family. Attending demonstrations might result in trouble with the law. But again, consider discomfort. Is it really better to be comfortable in silence, or warm at home while people suffer? Discomfort will continue to exist, regardless of what you do—and we can either embrace its existence, or run from it and hide, however futile that might be.
To be sure, the process of questioning and self-evaluation is not easy. It has the potential to force you to let go of previously held notions, and separate yourself from beliefs and ideals that have been an integral part of your life for decades. The process is not one to be taken lightly, nor should it be underestimated. However, know this: taking the time to continually evaluate and re-evaluate yourself and the world around you is the difference between allowing oppression to flourish and affecting change. It is the difference between watching hopelessly as loved ones are lost, and rising up to demand better treatment and social change. It is the difference between a country dividing and falling, and a country rising up to find common ground and forge ahead.
Practice, Put Into Action, Repeat
Reflection takes practice. Self-evaluation is not a one-time exercise designed to reach a peak, and remain there eternally. These are continual, constant practices that require time, attention, and a steady hand. Even in a single person, change does not happen overnight—how much less an entire country? But just as a person can achieve dramatic transformation with persistence, openness, and determination, a country has the ability to make incredible, powerful strides forward. Even if the country’s current state is preferable for some, the message remains the same: there is always room for improvement. This country is not perfect now, nor has it ever been. Patriotism is not blindly proclaiming the perfection of this country’s inception, but the steady pursuit of compassion, integrity, and equality.