I never thought of myself as patriotic until I looked it up. I expected to find that, according to the definition, I would be found unpatriotic. Although most people are patriotic to at least a small area or group, it is a rather subjective term. Particularly, what a person means by or associates with the word “country”, will affect their definition of “patriotic”.
The word “patriot”, as defined by Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition (WNWCD), means: “One who loves and loyally or zealously supports one’s own country”. However, just as all language changes with time and usage, this word has also changed to include a slightly more clear and different definition, as shown at dictionary.reference.com:
- a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion
- a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.
Of course, these formal definitions mean nothing if people use the word to mean something entirely different, as in the case of the word “cool” which is commonly used as slang to indicate interest, a dispassionate manner, or calming down, but formally means: “moderately cold, neither warm nor very cold”.
Most people, if asked if they are patriotic, would feel compelled to say yes, or least not say no without some explanation. In this time and culture, it seems that being patriotic is considered second in importance only to religion. If a person is labeled as unpatriotic, it almost automatically follows that they must be untrustworthy or at least to be watched carefully. However, despite the fact that many people perceive being “patriotic” as a good thing, not everyone means the same thing by saying so. Some people define being patriotic as supporting the government and/or the military. To some, those things are inherent to being a patriot. For others, the government and military are a threat to their patriotic attempts to prosper their family and land. Either way, it is important to other people’s understanding of what is being said that there is clarification of terms.
The problem with deciding a person’s trustworthiness based on whether or not they are labeled patriotic, is that the government has a tendency to call anyone who disagrees with it “unpatriotic”. Thus, giving those people a bad reputation and making excuses to give itself even more power. Not only does it label those it dislikes as “unpatriotic”, but it does it’s best to teach people that being patriotic is equivalent to supporting the actions of the government and military. Even I, who have never been taught in a public government institution, had been given that impression through exposure to people who were taught in government schools.
Symbols of patriotism, like a country’s flag, are generally regarded as good, but don’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone, either. In some places it represents the government. To some it symbolizes freedom from tyranny. Two very different things. When the flag is regarded as a symbol of freedom by one person, and not by another, the person with the flag may feel that the other is not patriotic, or is even a threat to their personal freedom. The person without the flag may see the one with the flag a as a threat to their personal freedom, because to them, the flag represents government tyranny.
Many people, when asked, will say that being patriotic means loving or being loyal to one’s country, but don’t define what they mean by “country”. There are so many possibilities for what a person might mean when they say they are patriotic to their country, that two people may say that same exact phrase and yet not understand what the other meant. The formal definitions of the word “country” are, according to WNWCD:
- an area of land; region
- the whole land or territory of a nation or state
- the people of a nation or state
- the land of a person’s birth or citizenship
- land with farms and small towns; rural region, as distinguished from a city or town
Other meanings ascribed to the word in personal definitions, are:
- where a person lives,
- the land around a person,
- the people one lives with.
So, both in formal definition, and usage, the word patriot seems to mean:
Someone who is loyal to and defends the people and land around where they live.
It does not automatically mean, being loyal to one’s government, or anything the government says or does. It does not necessarily mean supporting the government run military. It means caring for the people and things around you, doing your best to protect them and keep them prosperous.