It’s easy to think about flags this time of year. From Memorial Day through Independence Day we have plenty of opportunities to witness Old Glory snapping in the breeze.
I love our flag. I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t inspired by the sight of it. I was privileged to wear it on my arm for over twenty years of my life. I still get chills when I hear the words to our national anthem. But here’s the thing: just like the words the anthem itself depicts, I think our flag is under attack.
I know what you’re thinking: “Are you really going to talk about NFL players and kneeling?” Maybe…but I’m pretty sure not in the way you expect. In any case, let’s talk about immigration first.
Most folks I run across that have heard the tapes of the children separated from their parents at the border express some pretty strong emotions about them. No one has responded in the exact same way, but the common thread seems to be that everyone assumes that everyone else thinks the exact same way about it. Or at least they should…if they have half a brain…or a heart…or a conscience…or whatever proves humanity to the one expressing the opinion in the first place.
The topic of immigration is one of easily a thousand things within the American consciousness that demonstrates the way I think our flag is being bombarded. We are quick to vilify—to ascribe all manner of stupidity and heartlessness to anyone who disagrees with us—in short, we are becoming good at dehumanizing each other.
Maybe it has always been this way. I’m sure sociologists could explain it to me. I feel like I know enough about the human condition to recognize the biological, spiritual, psychological, etc., etc., ad nauseum excuses we use to separate ourselves from each other.
But I really don’t think I can stomach any more about how those caught trying to enter the country illegally deserve the treatment they get because they “should have known better.” Or, conversely, how “evil” or “heartless” it is for anyone to advocate for secure borders, rule of law, or fairness. When did we get the idea that being “right” is more important that being human? When did winning the argument become our priority?
We are at a crossroads. America’s relatively short life span has been replete with recreating itself. Even our fierce War for Independence was borne out of our desire for something different—something better. So when I hear people on both sides of the NFL kneeling controversy, there is a strong commonality: we all want to live in a country that is recognized as being worthy of honor and respect.
Those who get angry at the sight of disrespectful actions toward the flag or the anthem interpret those who do such things as denying the wonder of America—and make no mistake: for all its flaws, America is wonderful. In their eyes, those committing such actions are not only unpatriotic, but treasonous.
On the other hand, those that support the “kneelers” interpret the same behavior as acts of patriotism. Instead of a traitor, they see the embodiment of the Revolutionary soldier—someone willing to take risks and upset the status quo for the hope of meaningful change.
Regardless of where you stand on the border issue or the kneeling issue, you have another choice to make. Are you going to dig in your heels, double down on your bias, and assume the worst about those who disagree with you? Or are you willing to uncurl the fingers of your fist, lower it from your opponent’s face, and offer an open hand? What kind of nation do you want to be a part of?
Instead of stacking rhetorical sandbags to harden our positions, what could our country look like if we used our emotional and intellectual capital to build bridges? I choose to have the same hope embodied in the anthem I love. That even when the fire, smoke, and sparks of conflict rage…the flag is still there. And despite the battle that still rages—perhaps even because of it—there is hope for a better tomorrow.