As I read about the current political events, I keep coming back to the idea of patriotism. Defining patriotism is really easy: love of country. It gets hard when you try to explain what it invokes in people. Everyone has their own views and they each love the country for different reasons.

My understanding of patriotism was shaped by my early childhood. My father was an Army officer, and most of my childhood centered around military bases. I remember walking around with him and seeing him salute (almost) everyone we passed. This is very common on military bases (learn about saluting etiquette here).

When I saw military personnel salute one another, I saw their respect for each other. The acknowledgment that they are brothers and sisters in arms. That they are on the same side. That they trust one another even though they may never have seen each other before.

As a military brat I thought that camaraderie uniquely extended to us too. We build friendships quickly, because we knew that in less than 4 years one of us would have to move so we might as well make the most of today. Come to find out, this is just kids being kids, nevertheless, those were my formative years. It developed an internal pride about being a part of the military family. And honor to be a part of America.

Based on this philosophy of unity, I was taught that we should always honor those in the military, respect those in the police force, and trust our politicians. That a handshake should be as good as your word, and your word should mean something.

As an optimistic and naïve child, I thought that everyone had these same thoughts regarding love of country and maybe they do to some extent.

Lately though, that vision has been eroding in America. Lawsuits have made it harder to believe each other’s word. We’ve seen parts of our country struggle, with good reason, to have any faith in their police force. Politicians continue to lose our respect with their vicious ads, name calling, and corrupt behavior. The media has been caught up in the hype-tornado they created and have lost our trust along the way.

All of this compounds into us losing trust in each other. According to the Behavioral Insights Team, World Values Surveys has a survey, going back to the 1980s, in which it tracks the level of trust among citizens in each nation. In the past decade, America has slipped 35 percent.

How does someone have love for their country if they can’t trust their neighbor?

There is no law or policy which can force the bonds required change this trajectory. There is no way to force loyalty or patriotism.

In the end, the only person we control is ourselves. Individually, we can cultivate the culture around us. Build an environment where people can let down their guard in order to embrace each other again.

For me, that means I’ll reflect my father’s example by smiling, nodding, and saying hello to strangers when I pass them in the street. I’ll do my best to keep my word and I’ll take other people at their word.

I want to do my part to make America a place where people can be proud to express their love for this country. I hope we can all agree on that.

P.S. If you want to learn more about the World Values Survey, Freakonomics Radio has a great episode where they go into it here.

Ryan Mathews

Ryan Mathews

San Francisco, CA