Subberwal: Moving beyond our American rituals (column) |

Subberwal: Moving beyond our American rituals (column)

Kaeli Subberwal
Ben Trollinger / |

After Halloween and Christmas, it’s one of the most fun days of the year. You get to put on your best red, white and blue and wait on the side of the road for strangers in colorful costumes to lob candy in your direction. Afterward, you and your friends can comb now-quiet Frisco Main Street for extra sweets lying among the torn streamers and popped balloons, and then you can retreat home to divvy up your loot with sticky fingers.

Until I was about 12, I basked in the free candy and conviviality the Fourth of July brought; I loved the feeling of collective effervescence, of knowing that we were on this journey together, marching into the future as a nation. But then I started to feel kind of bad about taking the candy that was intended for children a lot younger than me, so I was forced to consider the situation more thoroughly, to ask myself what the excitement was actually about.

The eardrum-shattering parades and majestically rippling flags of Monday’s celebrations remind us that we’re undertaking this voyage collectively — not only as a state, but also as a nation of people bound together by shared resources, communities and values. The rush of adrenaline and patriotism are heady in the moment, but they must also serve as a reminder for us to consider what it means to love our country.

American nationality is bound up in many rituals beyond Independence Day parades. In our schools, we teach our children to stand, cover their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance: “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It is valuable to remind ourselves in this way of the fundamental ideals that are woven into the story of our country. However, it is not patriotic to blindly believe this pledge that we recite in monotone.

If we support American soldiers without understanding the reasons why they’re fighting for us, we are doing them a disservice.

The ritual of the Pledge of Allegiance is an emotional reminder of the duties we owe to our nation, but it is crucial that we don’t mistake such rituals for the duties themselves. Reciting the pledge is not our duty as Americans; rather, our duty is to ensure that there is substance behind our words. The ritual is valuable insofar as it reminds us of our purpose as American citizens.

There are also subtler rituals that inform Americans’ patriotism; although they may seem small, mistaking these rituals for duties is a risky mistake to make. These are the rituals of sharing a photo of American soldiers on Facebook and asking for likes to show support, of hoisting up a flag for the weekend and wearing red, white and blue, of holding a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives in combat in defense of the United States.

Please don’t misunderstand me: These rituals are valuable and important, and I am immeasurably grateful for the sacrifices made by brave men and women in uniform on behalf of our country. However, such rituals become dangerous if we start to think that our duty stops with them, with just symbolically showing our support. If we support American soldiers without understanding the reasons why they’re fighting for us, we are doing them a disservice. If we do not learn about our nation’s military endeavors and instead live our lives and cast our votes simply with the notion of “supporting the troops,” we are taking far too lightly the sacrifices that they have made in our name. To support the troops, we must be sure that they are fighting a just war. What’s more, when these troops return from fighting overseas wounded, traumatized and unable to work, it is our duty to ensure that they have not only Facebook likes, but benefits like health care, counseling and support for their families.

While the confusion of valuable ritual and patriotic duty is troubling, something far more dangerous can often be mistaken for patriotism: xenophobia. It is not patriotic to hate a community because their circumstances are forcing them to seek a better life elsewhere or because of the actions of a small minority of members of their religion. Our country is made strong by its diversity of opinions, values and cultures, not by its prejudice and fear of the “other.” The desire to protect your nation and your loved ones living there is natural and understandable, but you must have a clear idea of what or whom you’re protecting them from. “All outsiders” is not the right answer.

I love my country. The United States has given me my education, my security, my freedom of thought, my history, my culture and my independence. I am in this nation’s debt, and I hope to repay it by being as informed, engaged and involved as I can be. I may owe America the ritual of pledging allegiance to its flag and cheering in its parades, but, more importantly, I owe it the duty of every ounce of determination and critical thought I can muster.

In one sense, loving your country is like loving your children: It is not loving to give them whatever they want and to support their every decision; rather, it is loving to encourage their good decisions and to correct them if they stray.

We are extraordinarily lucky to live in a country that is founded on its citizens’ voices and input, and we cannot take this responsibility lightly. If we are discerning and think critically about the decisions made by our parties and our government, we can recite the Pledge of Allegiance with courage and conviction, as true patriots.

Kaeli Subberwal graduated from Summit High School in 2015 and just finished her first year at the University of Chicago. She is a summer intern at the Summit Daily.

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