Opinion | Susan Knopf: What separates a patriot from a nationalist

On this day after the election, some of us feel victorious and others dejected, defeated. Let’s all celebrate the process that distinguishes us from so many other governments and political systems. In a recent episode of “Madam Secretary” there is a speech that quotes our nation’s motto, and I think says it best: E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many One.

In the episode, fictional Secretary of State, Tea Leoni, says hate is the greatest threat to civilization, greater than the threat of nuclear war, because hate is the mechanism by which nuclear war is made possible.

She says, “Specifically, the blind hatred one group or nation can have for another. That is why I believe nationalism is the existential threat of our time. Nationalism is not the same as patriotism. It’s a perversion of patriotism. Nationalism … promotes the idea that inclusion and diversity represent weakness, that the only way to succeed is to give blind allegiance to the supremacy of one race over all others. Nothing could be less American.

“Patriotism on the other hand, is about building each other up and embracing our diversity as the source of our nation’s strength. ‘We the people’ means all the people. America’s heroes didn’t die for race or region. They died for the ideals enshrined in our Constitution. Above all freedom from tyranny, which requires our unwavering support of a free press, freedom of religion, all religions, the right to vote, and making sure nothing infringes on any of those rights, which belong to us all.

“Look where isolationism has gotten us in the past: two world wars, 70 million dead. Never again can we go back to those dark times when fear and hatred, like a contagion, infected the world. … We must never lose site of our common humanity, our common values, and our common decency…

“Our nation’s motto, ‘E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many One.’ Thirteen disparate colonies became one country, one people. Today, we call on all Americans, and people everywhere, to reject the scourge of nationalism. Because governments can’t legislate tolerance or eradicate hate. That’s why each one of us has to find the beauty in our differences, instead of the fear. Listen instead of reacting. Reach out instead of recoiling. It’s up to us, all of us.”

We have witnessed hatred in our local politics, when someone draws swastikas on the political signs of a candidate. We witnessed shocking hatred and violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, when a lone gunman slaughtered 11 innocent people, wounded six others, both worshippers and police officers. In Charlottesville, West Virginia, a white supremacist intentionally drove his car into a crowd, killing 32 year-old Heather Heyer. We cannot combat violence with violence, nor can we turn the other cheek.

Any religion, any group, which judges, excludes, rejects those they perceive as “the other” is making a colossal mistake. We are not here to play God and judge our fellow men and women. Local Hindu leader Ravi Jaishankar says, “We only judge in others what we judge in ourselves. We exclude and reject others to the extent that we do it to ourselves. It is our own un-love and pain we must take self-responsibility for and ultimately integrate.” The more you are kind, and love yourself, the easier it is to be kind and love another person, even someone you don’t know.

We are here to work together, perfecting the world, Tikkun Olam (Hebrew). You don’t have to believe in God to do the work. You don’t have to be able bodied to do the work. You don’t have to have to do anything but wake up every morning with a song in your heart and find a positive purpose. Smile at a fellow human being and really care about their answer, when you ask “How are you?”

Three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are part of the same historical story. These religions teach and promote the idea to treat one another the way one would wish to be treated. Christianity teaches “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Islam teaches, “… whoever kills a human being … it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” Buddhists believe in the eightfold path, which includes: right speech, right conduct, right effort, right mindfulness. And Hinduism, widely acknowledged as the world’s oldest living spiritual tradition, teaches mutual respect of differences as a way to grow beyond religious tolerance. This is not only a religious belief.

Rotarians promote the four way test.

1. Is it the TRUTH?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?


4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all?

We’re having trouble these days agreeing on truth. So, let’s focus on what’s fair, promotes goodwill and is beneficial to all. We do not need to be in a tug of war to see who wins. We need to find solutions so more people win, more of the time. This is not the time for winners versus losers. Try empathy instead, feel what the other person is feeling. This is when we find the road that everyone can travel together.

We must see that our forefathers, our religious teachers, and our best civic organizations agree completely on our purpose. It is not to name a Supreme Court justice that divides the country because we have the votes and we can. It is not to build a wall to keep out the suffering immigrant because we have the military might to do so. Instead of dividing, we must unite.

We must stand together as we did on 9/11. On that day a person’s race, religion, country of origin, economic status, were of no concern. People needed help. And we all did what we could to be of aid and comfort, to love one another. We all grieved together as one nation. We must find a way to go beyond tolerance to acceptance, and from acceptance to engagement, and from engagement to genuine regard, respect, affection. Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Each of us must bear that responsibility and begin today. Begin with love.

Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident. She has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.

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