Large as a nation

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

“We need scarcely say that we do not mean nationality, in the vulgar sense of the term; a senseless antipathy to foreigners; indifference to the general welfare of the human race, or an unjust preference of the supposed interest of our own country; a cherishing of bad peculiarities because they are national, or a refusal to adopt what has been found good by other countries. We mean a principle of sympathy, not of hostility; of union, not of separation.” – John Stuart Mill

June is the month when we celebrate our independence, when the flags emerge from storage, when we reflect on our country – what we love and what we hate about it. There is a familiar refrain that emerges at around this time, expressed in a phrase filled with both affection and exasperation: “Pilipinas, minsan kay hirap mong mahalin.”

It is a statement that has been made many times before, and which continues to cause a reaction when delivered by someone, especially those in the public eye. There are those that question the love of country of anyone who makes such a statement – and yet the answer is already there in the quote itself. There are those that take personal offense to the statement because it is sometimes laden with condescension. There are those that take offense for the country, as if our motherland itself felt the sting of insult at the temerity that a citizen has to make any complaints.

Yet as I have written before, “love of country” is no simple thing. Within that three-word phrase are two words which sages could spend decades arguing over. Neither love nor country can be so easily defined, and therefore neither can love of country be so readily grasped.

I think it is important to disabuse ourselves of the notion that love of country is natural – that it is easy. A characteristic that we believe is assured is one that we inevitably take for granted. A task we believe is easy is one we do not prepare for. And we take lightly and without forethought something as important as love of country… We leave ourselves vulnerable to those that would use it for their own ends, who would reduce it to a matter of “us” versus “them” and paint everything that undermines their power and privilege with the colors of the foreign and the treasonous.

There are those that believe invading other nations is a proper expression of love for their country, blind to the consequences of war on every nation involved. There are also those that believe that only those persons who have the same political beliefs as they do, love their country.

A misdirected love of country is a danger to the nation and its people.

I’ve said it before: Love can be possessive. It can be blind and heedless of anything but the object of its affection. “My country, right or wrong” is at the core of countless atrocities committed under the cover of a flag. And those that utter that lie like a mantra often have no true conception of a country itself.

A country is bigger than most would think. Can any amongst us truly claim that they have walked the length and breadth of all our islands, that they know the hearts of all its people? A country is more than those in your own family, in your own community, your comfort zone. It is more than the people that look like you, go to the same schools, enjoy the same pastimes, pray to the same God. A country includes people who you do not understand, people that make you uncomfortable, people that believe in a path forward for the nation that is different from your own.

So no, love of country is not easy. It requires a mind able to imagine a multitude of other lives, and a heart able to feel compassion for the same. Compassion, to take from Aristotle’s discussion of pity, requires three thoughts: that a serious evil has occurred, that it happened to a person who was undeserving of the same and that all of us are vulnerable to that same evil in similar ways. It is this sort of compassion which has motivated societies to create democracies (as opposed to tyrannies) and to establish the rule of law (as opposed to the whims of a ruler).

But this is a compassion that is not possible without effort, without education, without the means to show people the broad spectrum of lives that are lived within the borders of a nation. Most of us are raised on the principle that all people are equal, but without the education and exposure that leads to feelings of compassion – whether from books, travel or simply listening to those different from us – such knowledge has no chance of motivating us to action.

And action is what we need, because a love of country that is simply expressed by the hanging of a flag for seven days out of 365 is hardly a true expression of love – and “patriotism” expressed by harming our countrymen is exactly the opposite. Love of country is not easy, and it is not comfortable. It means – for everyone, particularly for those who are privileged and in positions of power – not listening only to those that share the same opinions and worldview, not caring only for those in the same situation. It means to meet the complaints, the criticisms, the tears and anger of our countrymen with an open mind and a clear eye, with hearts that seek compassion. And when that compassion is not immediately felt, not to then dismiss these cries, but to learn more about them – about people that lead different lives, yet who still share with us the same bond of nationhood and who also love our country. Compassion is not easy, but it can be learned. And taking positive steps towards educating and training our hearts in that way – that is an expression of our love of country.

A heart can only love a country if it has been made large enough to encompass all of it, the good and the bad; the familiar and the other.


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