Patriotism is a very important aspect of daily life for many people no matter what country they are from. An individual’s patriotism shows their pride and loyalty for his or her nation. It shows an undying love for the nation that they represent.
This past week, the Quad was filled with numerous flags representing all of the nations that Shippensburg University students call home. As I walked past the flags, I questioned why flags are even that important. I have always understood the symbolism behind the American flag, – 13 stripes representing the 13 original colonies, 50 stars representing the 50 states, etc. – but I still never quite grasped why they play such a pivotal role in society.
I have always believed that people placed too much focus on the flag. For a long time, I looked at it as just a piece of cloth that was a symbol of what the nation represents. Not that that is a bad thing, but I did not understand how people showed more reverence towards the flag than they did towards other people. It made no sense to me why it was so wrong to have it touch the ground, even if it was an accident, or why it had to be hung in a certain way in order for it not to be deemed disrespectful.
When it was time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I did not understand why it was necessary to do so facing the flag other than the fact that we were trained to do so from an early age. I felt as though I should be able to show my patriotism with or without a flag being present.
It was not until I attended a panel discussion about the culture and relevance of flags in foreign nations Thursday, October 30, 2014, that my questions were finally answered. The students which represented nations such as Malawi, the Bahamas, France, etc., explained why their respective home nations hold so much reverence for their flags. I realized that the flag is not just a silly decoration used to symbolize the nation, but a representation of all of its citizens and its history. Flags are one of the few means we have as humans to pass down information about the origins and history of a nation. The flag could represent an escape from a tyrannical leader, gaining independence from a more powerful nation or even the geography of a nation. As time passes and the history books continue to be updated, we will always have our flag to remind us of where we started.
Since the panel, I began to appreciate the flag more. Every time I see the American flag, I instantly think about what it means. It is important to respect the flag because the flag ultimately represents the people, past, present and future.
Having heard about how other nations treat their flags, I cannot help but think that America should start putting even more focus on the flag. Sure, we might learn about the flag in history classes, and we might be taught proper etiquette regarding the flag from a young age, but I do not think the true message is being passed down as it is supposed to be.
I got the impression from the panel that it is not only the school system, but also the family and community that educates the people about the importance of the flag. The flag is such a vital aspect of their culture that they grow up understanding and celebrating it.
My experience learning about the flag seemed more forced and contrived coming from a paid teacher than it might have if the lessons were passed down from my community, the people who are not forced to teach me, but do so out of true, undying pride and love for the nation.
For example, we may have national holidays such as Independence Day that celebrate the nation and its history, but how many people actually celebrate the true meaning of said holidays? As far as I know, only a minority of people. Instead, we celebrate by having cookouts, fireworks and other activities, which are very fun, but we forget why we even have the holidays. Like the flag, holidays represent our nation, and should be taken seriously. There are certain things that just cannot be taught in school, and patriotism is one of them.