Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Counseling Corner: My country can beat your Independence Day, 9/11 and the World Cup brings us together.

USA! USA! USA!   The crowd chants, flags are flying, faces painted red, white and blue - the hope of a nation rests on the USA Soccer team....People line the street, decked out their red-white and blue, an elderly man marches proudly, a War World I Veteran, whose original Navy crackerjack blues still seem to fit after all these years.  The crowd stands in honor and applauds heartily, thanking him for his service to our nation......

In OUR town, the 4th of July parade is a local staple. Even thinking back to when I was a kid, and lived in a neighboring town, people from all around came to High Street in Pottstown, PA, to watch the parade, wave their flags, and show their pride in the USA. This annual tradition varies very little from year to year, but holds profound meaning for those who attend. The festivities are capped off with a very nice fireworks display, signifying "the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air". We feel pride, excitement and hope when we participate in this yearly ritual. I often shed a tear or two, especially when I see the war veterans in the parade and hear the bagpipes.  We fight the crowds, walk a mile, sometimes in the rain - uphill BOTH WAYS - but it is soooo worth it.

As my husband and I walked among the crowd this morning at the parade, I felt that familiar sense of pride, and a kinship with hundreds of people I do not know.  We are there for one reason - to celebrate our country's independence, to remind ourselves that we are a community, and to pass these traditions on to our children.  We remember that we are allowed to have such a parade because many gave their lives. we should not take this for granted. 

This morning, we took many photographs, to commemorate this day, and I have included several through this blog. The parade was fairly typical, the countless fire companies who participate (THANK YOU, FIREMEN!!), the Little League, and the giant duck, the steam calliope...the parade is predictable and provides a sense of continuity and safety. We know what to expect and we love it. It is OUR parade.

Today is about pride, and it is also about patriotism.  Patriotism is defined in Webster's Online Dictionary as "love or devotion for one's country". Michael J. Bader in his article "The Psychology of Patriotism" ( states that "Patriotism can be a force for good or for evil".  When I think about patriotism, I also reflect on other events as well...The World Cup, The Olympic Games, and the tragic events of 9/11.  These events bring us together as a nation, and we have a common sense of pride, belonging, and, especially in the case of 9/11, defensiveness. We have seen patriotism pull our nation together, as we did  in the days and weeks following 9/11/01. We have also seen the patriotism of other nations turn evil, as we witnessed the planes hitting the twin towers or in the case of Hitler in Nazi Germany.

But why patriotism and how does it work? Abraham Maslow defined a "hierarchy of needs", which included physiological needs, safety needs, need for belonging, esteem needs, and self-actualization.  Our safety needs and our need for belonging cause us to want to defend ourselves, our families, and ultimately, our country, and we do this in groups...parades, parties, vigils, or marches, because we need to feel a kinship with other like-minded individuals. Bader compares this patriotism to a family. We need to feel that sense of attachment and we also project our need for parental authority.  This was best seen through the Hurricane Katrina disaster, when people looked to their government for answers and assistance. Through patriotism, we have a sense of "we" that combats the isolation and loneliness that is so common in our modern society.

One aspect of Independence Day that we sometimes forget in the midst of all the parades, barbecues and fireworks, are the men and women who are serving in the armed forces around the world, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can "let freedom ring", and the families who are left behind. The American Psychological Association discusses important aspects of this on their website ( I have been a military spouse myself, and know firsthand the loneliness that can often arise on a day such as the Fourth of July.  My step-son is currently serving in Japan, and my son-in-law spent most of 2009 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  To both of these young men in my life, and the thousands I do not know, I thank you. Because of you, I am flying my flag proudly today.

*Photos by Michael Herrigel


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