A New View on Patriotism

I don’t like to go on Facebook anymore.

I don’t like to watch TV much either, in case the news comes on after whatever show I was peripherally interested in. Honestly, I have been making an active effort to avoid engaging politically in all facets of my life. While there are quite a few things happening in our government that make me uneasy, it is particularly disenchanting to see how the negativity has seeped into the day-to-day conversations between family, friends, and acquaintances.

As time has passed, people on my social feeds have become more firmly set in their views to the point where they feel the need to make their point of view known, even when it is not needed. It is discouraging to me, as a young adult, to feel that:

A.) I recognize so much wrong with my country and how it operates.

B.) That there are very few avenues for me to enact change.

C.) That many people seem, at least publically, disinterested in working together towards positive change.

I struggled to reconcile the idea of “being patriotic” and disagreeing with my country’s leadership so fervently.

This intentional/unintentional disconnect from paying regular attention to the political sphere helped in some ways. It was too easy to get caught up in negativity while sifting through it all every day. However, it has also had the unfortunate side effect of deterring me from making positive ripples and impacts in important conversations. I have no longer been playing an active role in conversations where I could potentially be making small positive differences. I had the opportunity to reflect recently on many of the small positives in my life. In my reflections, I keep coming back to 3 people I met in the past few months who helped me to re-engage.

The first was an Uber driver in Philadelphia. As is typical in Ubers (for me anyway), I struck up a conversation. I asked, eventually, where he was from originally. He told me “I came here from Nigeria because I wanted to make a better life.” It struck me there, that the classic “USA”, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story still exists. Maybe it isn’t as pretty as I let myself start to believe, but here it was right in front of me.

We talked further and I asked what his favorite part of being in the United States was. He told me: “I finally feel like I have a chance to be safe and happy. I am amazed by people here. They don’t realize how good they have it. I want to tell all the people who are not happy that this is a happy place – much happier than most places in the world. I laugh when people are upset all the time because they just don’t see how good it is.”

He was a wonderful person. He forced me, intentionally/unintentionally to connect.

It allowed me to reflect on how much happiness I take for granted. Here I am being frumpy about the world around me when I just got married, promoted, and moved into a new house. I have no excuse for all of this negative energy. Even as we talk about how good we have it, I don’t know that we truly realize how positive an experience we have in our country.

Shortly after this experience, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica on my honeymoon. The first person we met there was, coincidentally, another driver. This man was taking us from the airport to the hotel, and as I highlighted earlier, I apparently can’t resist a good 15-minute conversation on the road. He knew almost no English, but he repeatedly wanted to assure that we knew one thing about Costa Rica. “Pura Vida”. My limited knowledge of the Spanish language restricts my understanding of the statement, but I’ve gathered it is similar to “Hakuna Matata”.

He went on to describe, though, that everything around us was “Pura Vida”. The van was Pura Vida, the mountains were Pura Vida, even the traffic was Pura Vida. He had a true devotion to the idea. He loved, simply, living. It is deeper than simply not worrying. It felt more to me that things, naturally, could not bother him because being alive was such a wonderful gift. He was so happy to drive us, so happy to be the first person we talked to in a new country, and so happy to share “Pura Vida” with two people who’d never heard about it.

The third person was our tour guide in Nicaragua (we went on a day trip – beautiful country – I saw real live flowing Lava and it was a life goal). He spent the day shuttling us around his country. It rained, we spent a lot of time on a bus, and we had to go through immigration twice. Amidst all of the annoyances, though, he too was thrilled to show us his country. But what he said at the end of the tour (after about 12 hours) is what really struck me. He thanked us for visiting, not only because tourism is a huge part of the Nicaraguan economy, but because he wanted us to experience it. He was proud to show us the beauty and the positive thing of his country. He was elated that we got to see the small wonders it held for the first time, even though he acknowledged that it was far from perfect.

These three interactions were striking, but viewing them through a reflective lens was all the more powerful. I have been asking myself how I can love a country where I disagree so fervently with some of its leaders. I can do this by taking a step back and realizing that this disagreement does not negate the good things about the United States of America. I have to learn to be proud of those things more often and to learn to share those pieces with others in a positive way. I can’t let the negative things stop me from realizing the beauty around me.

A few days ago I sat next to a family on the train on my commute. They happened to be from Costa Rica. Now, I don’t know if this was fate or the world giving me an opportunity to put my reflections into action, but I felt that I had a chance to return the favor that I had received from 3 people from other countries so recently. I shared my favorite places in New York, my favorite experiences, things that they “needed to see”, and realized that sharing the beauty of the place where I am from is its own form of Patriotism. I can love my country and disagree with it, and that is beautiful. I cannot allow negativity on any day to stop me from having a positive experience with my country and to continue to make small positive ripples.

Peter Alexander

Peter is a 25-year-old life-long New Jersey Resident. He graduated from the University of Scranton with an English and Theater double major and currently works in New York City. He has a passion for birdwatching, baseball statistics, and singing karaoke on long car rides. He is very excited to be a part of the Project Wednesday team!

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