I Patriot; I Citizen

This is a transcript of a 2004 Award-winning speech.


I come to you today not just as a member of this organization, but as a member of society. Not just a citizen of the United States, but also a Patriot.

In this election year, perhaps it is all the more appropriate to examine the meaning of these terms – Citizenship and Patriotism – terms have been thrown about easily, perhaps too easily, in the past several months. But how can you tell if someone is or is not a citizen, is or is not a patriot? What does it mean to be any of these things?

Does it depend on being able to say the pledge of allegiance the right way? No.

Does it depend on a belief in one God, or even any God, for that matter? Of course not.

Does it depend on a strict acceptance of the whims of any presidential administration? Absolutely not.

There is a difference between being patriotic, being a citizen, and being a patriot.

Patriotism is a love of country. A supporter of progressing the goals and mission of that country. It is an emotional state of being.

On the other hand, a Patriot puts citizenry before self, puts the good of the country first among the global village. It is an ideological state of being.

Finally, a citizen is the most difficult to become, for a citizen is not just a member of society, but a partaker of its dynamic. It is a participant in the affairs of state. It is a behavioral state of being.

So, is it possible to be patriotic without being a citizen? Yes, because it is possible to maintain an emotion without following through with action.

The question therefore becomes, why should you be a patriot? Why should you be a citizen?

Could it be because enough criticism is levied towards the US by the international community? Perhaps, but that leaves us with a defensive outlook on our role in the global village.

Could it be because of September 11th? Perhaps, but that doesn?t leave us with a very clear path to follow.

Could it be because we?re the greatest country in the world? Perhaps, but that is more of an emotional reaction, but also intellectually vacuous.

No, it is because we have to understand once and for all that the United States exists in a world that is by nature competitive, violent, and hostile. We are no longer insulated from these elements by the vast oceans to our east and west. Academic debate about America’s role in the world means absolutely nothing when violence that was once home to Jerusalem, Belfast, or Sarajevo now resides in New York, Washington D.C., and in a field in Pennsylvania.

To be a patriot, to believe in the idea that the good of the country should be put first among its global neighbors, is a very difficult task. To be a patriot means to be faced with criticism of arrogance, of bullyism, of inequality. But these are the hard lessons of living in this world – that life is harsh, unfair, and unequal. There will always be a leader and it is up to the patriot to believe that that leader should be us, and it is up to the citizen to accomplish that goal. After all, the view behind the lead dog never changes.

It is difficult to accomplish because the flaws in our own situation are so easy to see. The closer we are to something the more obvious its faults. With no comparison we may sometimes only see those flaws. Like a fish who does not know he lives in water, we sometimes neglect to see the true nature of our reality. Yet, we live in a country where, according to the U.S. census, the ‘poor’ have two televisions, 5 radios, and Internet access, a standard of living far beyond most European middle-class households.

As a patriot, I pledge allegiance to the republic of the United States.

As a patriot, I pledge allegiance to its citizenry.

As a patriot, I pledge to support the goals and mission of freedom and liberty.

But to believe in these ideas is not enough. You must be a citizen as well as a patriot. It means putting those beliefs into action.

So that is your task. You have to move beyond patriotism, beyond just your emotion.

You have to move beyond being a patriot, beyond just your ideology.

YOU must also be a citizen. YOU must put your emotion and your ideas into action.

When you arrive at the voting booth this November, that is what being a citizen is all about.

In closing let me leave you with this parting thought. The Greeks, who developed the concepts of democracy, republics, and patriotism, had a word for an individual with no interest in politics. We still use that word today. So it is up to each individual to determine if he or she is going to be a patriot, or an ‘idiot.’

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