Eleven Ways to Make Patriotism Cool Again
Despite what the pessimists and naysayers would have us believe, America is a great nation in which we’re all privileged to live. David and Andrea Reiser explain what the true nature of patriotism is—and how you can infuse your daily life with civic pride.
Patriotism. It’s a thornier word than it used to be. To some, it conjures visions of flag-waving and parades. To many others, though, “patriotism” feels uncomfortably close to arrogance and intolerance—even xenophobia and bigotry. Yes, in the push for political correctness, we’ve somehow gotten the idea that we can’t be proud of our own country without offending other cultures—or without becoming cogs in an increasingly soulless governmental machine. However, say David and Andrea Reiser, neither is true.
“Whether you’re left, right, or center on the political spectrum—whether you’re a first or tenth generation American—being proud of our country is a good thing,” says David Reiser, co-author along with his wife Andrea of the new book Letters From Home: A Wake-up Call for Success & Wealth.
Patriotism, they explain, isn’t about putting others down or devaluing other cultures. Nor is it about blind, unquestioning devotion to a government or flag. It’s about loving the United States, being proud of its achievements, being grateful for the sacrifices of those who have gone before, and—especially—about caring enough to take a hand in shaping its future.
David and Andrea Reiser feel very strongly about this formula for patriotism. In fact, it’s one of the biggest reasons they wrote Letters From Home, which explores 15 basic American virtues that built our country and that foster individual success. The authors want to shift our culture back to one that embraces the principles that made the United States great—back to an American Dream that places service and community ahead of entitlement and self.
“To make sure America continues to be all it can be, we have to find the seeds of greatness inside us, one person at a time, and start a true grassroots movement to return our country to its core values,” says Andrea. “We have to realize that loving America means working hard to make it better and stronger—not just turning our eyes to the flag at the beginning of baseball games.”
No, America isn’t perfect. But instead of focusing on its hang-ups and failings, why not take some time to remember why it’s also great…why it has been and still is “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?
Want to join the Reisers in their effort to make patriotism cool again? Then read on to learn what you can do in your everyday life to put a positive face on being patriotic:
Realize that patriotism doesn’t mean blind acceptance… Guess what? To be a patriot, you don’t have to endorse every decision that comes out of Washington or agree with every law that’s on the books. That’s the beauty of living here: you have the right to disagree. There’s room for discussion. There’s a place for individual thought. (Just ask the Founding Fathers!)
“I firmly believe that America has grown to be the great country it currently is because throughout its history its citizens have possessed the right to disagree, to express dissent, and to call leaders on the carpet,” David states. “Think about great reformers like Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. History sure would have been different if they’d kept their mouths shut!”
…but it doesn’t mean sitting back, either. If you think about it, being proud of one’s country should give you the motivation to help shape its future. So get involved. Stay informed about what’s happening here and abroad. Write your congressman. Attend city council meetings. After all, America’s heritage was built by men and women who did something about it.
“America is a nation for the people and by the people…not by the elected few,” Andrea points out. “Yes, as voters we put men and women in office from the local level to the national level—but at the end of the day, they hold the seats they do because they’re supposed to be supporting our interests. If you’re not happy with a bill or law or statute or vote, speak up! Tell your city councilman, state governor, or senator what you think.”
Reinforce at home what your kids learn in school. No matter where your kids go to school, it’s a given that they’re receiving some sort of civic education. They’re learning about the Founding Fathers, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Bill of Rights, and more. To make sure that these subjects really sink in, take a few minutes to discuss them at home. Share, for example, what having the right to vote means to you. After all, how your kids feel about their country today will impact how they shape it tomorrow.
“Don’t be afraid to get creative when discussing civics and patriotism with your children,” David suggests. “For example, The New York Times prints a full-page copy of the Declaration of Independence on July Fourth each year. We tear it out and hang it in the kitchen for everyone to see and explore. I’ve also seen placemats with the U.S. Presidents on them that kids love, as well as kid-friendly civics games at education stores.”
Observe patriotic etiquette. Much like saying “please” and “thank you” to others, observing patriotic etiquette is a way to show respect and deference to the nation in which we live. No one’s going to throw you out of a sporting event if you don’t remove your hat and place your hand over your heart during the national anthem—but doing so certainly fosters a sense of gratitude and reverence among those present, and also creates a sense of identity and pride in America.
“Familiarize yourself with proper patriotic etiquette—including flag etiquette—and encourage the whole family to follow it,” Andrea advises. “In addition to showing proper respect to our country, you’ll spark those important ‘why’ conversations with your kids.”
Start a positive conversation at the water cooler. Instead of complaining about this politician, that law, or the government’s supposed failure, pick a positive news story to share. Yes, there’s plenty wrong with America. There’s also plenty right.
“Don’t assume that these positive stories have to be spangled with metaphorical red, white, and blue stars—although they certainly can be,” David points out. “It’s very effective to simply state, ‘I’m proud to be that woman’s countryman,’ or, ‘Company X is really a wonderful example of how American small businesses can impact communities.’ For some initial inspiration, just flip through the pages of Letters From Home—each chapter includes the stories of real Americans who exemplify the virtues my wife and I talk about.”
Push for solutions when you hear complaints. Even if you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard someone complaining about politics, policies, or politicians recently. (After all, there are entire TV shows seemingly devoted to just that!) Maybe you’ve even joined the finger-pointing festivities yourself. Keep in mind that it’s easy to gripe—but that griping also gets you nowhere. It’s much more difficult to offer solutions—however, that’s exactly what you should strive to do.
“Whenever the government-bashing begins, don’t try to squelch it—but do push for ideas and constructive dialogue,”,” Andre Andrea says. “Often, complaints can serve as a great springboard for constructive conversation. Ask your fellow conversationalists what they think should be done to improve or rectify things. If your ideas become sufficiently well-developed, pass them on to an elected representative or write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Whatever you do, don’t keep potentially viable solutions to yourself!”
Keep a civil tone when you express your opinions. In other words, don’t be such a hothead that other people feel uncomfortable having a conversation with you! Remember that your opinion isn’t the only one, and that you’ll be much more effective if you can disagree agreeably.
“Put bluntly, fire-and-brimstone patriotism turns off as many people as it fires up,” reminds David. “If you’re extremely vehement, condemnatory, or excitable, your message will probably get lost in the delivery. So use the term ‘patriotism’ judiciously, and keep it civil.”
Make a difference…vote! Voting really is a privilege, so treat it as one! Challenge yourself to be an informed voter by becoming familiar with the issues at hand and with the platforms of individual politicians. Think about it this way: if you don’t take the time to thoughtfully cast your vote, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to complain about what your elected officials do or don’t do.
“When elections roll around, don’t just zip in and out of the voting center if you can help it. Try to make going to the polls an event for the entire family,” suggests Andrea. “Take your kids with you when you vote, and teach them that what you’re doing is an important part of being an American citizen. Explain to them how fortunate we are to live in a country where we get to select our leaders. And if they’re old enough, ask them who they’d vote for, and why.”
Remember—and remind others—why you’re off work. You can’t flip too far through the calendar without hitting a national holiday. Next time Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, President’s Day, etc. rolls around, brush up on that holiday’s history and meaning. Then share what you’ve learned with your kids and co-workers. Better yet, get involved in planning a local celebration, parade, etc.
“Federal holidays have all been designated as such for a reason,” David reflects. “They honor specific individuals, groups, ideas, and events that have been crucial in America’s development and history. Yeah, staying home from work or taking advantage of celebrations and special events is nice—but keep in mind that those things aren’t the main point.”
Take a historical vacation (or staycation). Reminding everyone in your family how America got to where it is today isn’t just a valuable educational opportunity. It’s also a way to drive home lessons—positive and negative—that can still be applied today. Depending on how much time and money you’ve got to work with, you could take a quick field trip to your county’s history museum…or mount an expedition to Colonial Williamsburg, the Gettysburg battlefield, or the beaches of Normandy, just to name a few.
“Our four sons have really enjoyed the historical trips we’ve taken—and they’ve learned quite a bit, too,” Andrea shares. “Our family trip to Washington, D.C. stands out especially. It’s our nation’s capital and center of government, and it contains so many fascinating memorials and museums. David and I really believe that it should be a required field trip for all citizens, regardless of age.”
Do your part on the home front. No, people aren’t growing Victory Gardens, digging bomb shelters, or following the progress of the draft—but America is still at war. Thousands of servicemen and women are serving far from home—and they could use your encouragement. Put together a care package for a deployed soldier, thank a veteran, or ask a military family how you can help out while Mom or Dad is overseas.
“We really can’t extend enough gratitude to the members of our armed forces and their families,” David states. “While we’re enjoying our homes, our comfy beds, our favorite restaurants, and more, thousands of military men and women are voluntarily going without what most of us would consider to be ‘the basics’—all in service of our country. And that’s not even taking into account the sacrifices their families are making while they’re gone!
“If you want to do something to support our military communities, organizations like the Department of Veterans Affairs, The American Legion, and the American Red Cross all offer opportunities to get involved. In addition, a quick web search will turn up multitudes of organizations that provide everything from care packages to quilts to cups of coffee to pen pals to soldiers. Before donating your money or time to any organization, though, do your homework to make sure it’s legitimate.”
“Yeah, flags look nice waving in the breeze, and parades are exciting—but those things aren’t the be-all and end-all of patriotism,” David Reiser concludes. “Patriotism is about infusing our daily lives with activities and ideas that give meaning to the red, white, and blue. Patriotism, like the United States itself, is something that should be defined and perpetuated by We the People.”
Adds Andrea, “Let’s stop being shy about showing our love for America. Let’s start loving America because we remember its history—and because we’re actively shaping its present and future.”
David Reiser is a senior vice president–wealth management at MorganStanley SmithBarney, with offices in Westport, Connecticut, and Newport, Rhode Island. With over 24 years of professional wealth management experience, he is a Certified Financial PlannerTM, a Senior Investment Management Consultant, and serves on MSSB’s Consulting Group Advisory Board and a co-author of Wealthbuilding: Investment Strategies for Retirement and Estate Planning (Wiley, 2002), and has appeared on CNBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, Bloomberg TV, and PBS.
Andrea Reiser is an alarm clock, banker, censor, chauffeur, cheerleader, chef, chief justice, chore delegator, coach, concierge, confidante, correctional officer, homework advisor, housekeeper, hygiene consultant, internet safety monitor, inventory manager, juggler, loan officer, paramedic, party planner, peacekeeper, personal assistant, referee, and a mom with a sense of humor to name a few. She is also co-author of Wealthbuilding: Investment Strategies for Retirement and Estate Planning (Wiley, 2002).