by Kassandra Lamb ~ When I first set out to write this post, I intended it to be a relatively light piece about the psychology of patriotism. But as I started writing, I realized there is a dark side to this subject. And, in light of recent events, that cannot and should not be ignored. More on that in a moment.
But first the basics—what is the psychology of patriotism?
Most people love the country in which they grew up, some so intensely they are willing to sacrifice everything for their homeland. But why is that?
Actually, this is a great example of nature plus nurture. We human beings are biologically programmed to seek what psychologist, Abraham Maslow dubbed the three A’s: affiliation, acceptance and affection. Indeed, he deemed these needs as so essential, they came right after physical survival and safety needs in his well-known hierarchy of needs pyramid.
And there is an evolutionary survival aspect to these belongingness needs. In more primitive times, individuals really couldn’t survive all that well on their own. Being affiliated with a group—a tribe, a clan—meant the difference between scrabbling for survival or feeling more secure among others who were working together (theoretically) to insure everyone’s continued existence.
So those folks who had a strong need to belong—who fit in, were cooperative, had good social skills—they fared better from an evolutionary standpoint. And that desire/need for belongingness became stronger still in the human gene pool.
That’s the “nature” component, but where does nurture play into the psychology of patriotism?
How do we learn to love our country?
One way we learn to love the larger group we belong to—beyond our family, our town—is via celebrations of national holidays, such as Independence Day.
Some of my earliest memories of group interaction, outside of school and family, were the July 4th cookouts my family attended at the home of friends. The oldest son of that family was my brother’s age and their second son was only a year older than me. (Indeed, he ended up being my first boyfriend).
They lived in a rural area where there was lots of room for us to run around and play. We had fun all day, ate good food, then went to see the local fireworks in the evening. It was one of my favorite days of the year and it taught me to associate the warm fuzzy feelings of friendship and well-being with the American flag.
We also learn to love our country (whatever that country may be) through learning about its history. We learn about the struggles our forefathers and mothers went through to create the country in the first place. And we learn about all that has happened since then, that sometimes weakened but often ultimately strengthened our country.
And we don’t have to sugarcoat or sanitize that history in order to inspire patriotism in children. It’s okay to admit that as a country we have made mistakes. It is a great opportunity for kids to learn that no person is perfect, therefore no group of people is going to be perfect either.
The key is in continuing to strive to be better.
The dark side of the psychology of patriotism
One of the ways we can strive to do better, as a country, is by paying closer attention to the dark side of the psychology of patriotism—to those who don’t seem to “belong.” There’s an ugly underbelly to affiliation, a fourth “A”… alienation.
Note in the hierarchy above that the belongingness needs come before self-esteem needs. Many people will stifle who they are, may even do things they don’t want to do, in order to belong. No doubt you saw this as a child. There were always those kids who kissed up to the more popular leaders. And other kids who kept their mouths shut when the group was doing something they didn’t like, out of fear of being ostracized.
And there were a few kids who, no matter how hard they tried to “fit in,” they were picked on and ostracized. Or maybe after a while, they no longer tried to fit in; they just went their own way.
As I said, when I sat down to write this post, I had no intention of getting into all this. But it dawned on me that to ignore this dark side of the psychology of patriotism would make me part of the problem.
We should not be ignoring these alienated kids.
For they can all too easily turn on the groups that failed to meet their belongingness needs. They can become the lawbreakers, the mass shooters, the terrorists. These are the kids on whom we should be focusing our society’s mental health resources, while they are still young enough to be coaxed and coached into following a different path.
Believe it or not, I was one of those kids.
Since this post is getting a little long, I’m going to split it into two. I’ll be writing a follow-up post to this one, about what helped me move from alienated and lonely to confident and accepted. And hopefully I can shed some light on how we can help other alienated kids. I’ll post that in the next week or so.
For today, let us celebrate the bright side of patriotism. For all its flaws, I believe the U.S.A. is a great country. And I will do what I can, in my small way, to try to make it even greater.
What do you love most about your country?
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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. Plus she has started a new police procedural series, also set in Florida—The C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. And she writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.
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Marilyn LevinsonJuly 8, 2022 at 9:54 am
Great post, Kass. I look forward to reading Part 2.
Kassandra LambJuly 8, 2022 at 7:36 pm
Glad you liked it, Marilyn. Thanks for stopping by!