“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead
Who never to himself, hath said
This is my own, My native Land
……Living shall forfeit fair renown
And, doubly, dying shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung
Unwept, unhonoured and unsung.”
(Patriotism, by Sir Walter Scott)
Patriotism is one of the virtues extolled by politicians all over the world. Apparently, a Patriot (apart from being a missile), in these days of increasingly blinkered nationalism, is a person who believes “My country, always right, never wrong”. There is also an immense attack of what I’d like to call the Frog-in-the-well syndrome.
This is one of Swami Vivekananda’s stories. A frog used to live in a well, which was all that he’d ever seen. It was a good life. He satisfied both his wants of food and shelter. One day, his cousin from a river up north decided to visit the frog. The cousin was describing his life in the big river. The frog couldn’t believe his ears, when he heard what he thought were very tall stories. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore. he asked his cousin “This river of yours, how big is it?” so, his cousin replied “It is very large”. The frog took a small jump and asked “Is it as wide as this?”. The cousin replied “It is many more times wider than that.” The frog jumped as far as he could and asked the same question. the cousin persisted in telling him that the river was much wider. The frog gave the cousin a very big concession and decided to ask him if the river as big as his well. The cousin laughed and told him that the river was a million times larger than the tiny space he inhabited. The frog was insulted and said “Nothing is larger than my well. I don’t believe your pack of lies. I don’t think there is world outside that is half as big as where I live in..”
Now, this is a story that a politician would love. He (or she) would argue that the frog in the well was a true patriot. He loved his habitat and was prepared to defend its honour. Of course, the question of dying for his well does not arise, but that would be a mere technicality.
The ordinary person, of course, would detect a massive flaw in this reasoning. The fact that the frog hadn’t seen the rest of the world did not mean that there was nothing in the surroundings that was much bigger than his small well. The frog laboured under the delusion that the entire world revolved around him and his pathetic dwelling place. Unfortunately, in these times, that remains the problem with the vast majority of 6 billion humans walking this planet. The world may have become smaller, boundaries may have been erased in all but the minds of governments, but the mind of the “true patriot” remains closed to the notions of other cultures, other races, other mindsets, opinions and views.
At this juncture, we must pause to analyse and sift the rights from the wrongs. Have you been turning a blind eye when your nation did something detrimental to the cause of world peace? Do you support your “statesmen” in whatever policies they undertake, without reading the finer print or caring to know what other viewpoints are? Are the media that give you the information about the “world beyond the well” biased? Moreover, do you believe every word uttered in them? Do you have nothing but contempt for people who hold viewpoints opposed to your own or which challenge those of the government? If you have answered yes to three or more, you have been stricken by this malaise.
The question begging to be asked is “Is this true blue patriotism after all?”
Love, they say is blind. But, patriotism does not necessarily equate to closing your eyes and learning by rote the official answer to every criticism levelled against you as a nation. Nor does it entail waving the flag around during cricket matches, chanting “We will rock you” on the top of your voices. This does not mean that, as a nation, we must not present a united front and stand behind all the choices that the country makes, but the crux of the whole matter is, how detrimental will it be to the interests of the world? Are these decisions based on objective reasoning, rather than momentary lapses in judgement caused by excessive sentimentality?
The 21st century demands, not archaic devotion to old concepts, but a hope for the new future. It declines to suffer fools refusing to shake off the musty cobwebs of “a glorious past” and making grandiose & shameless plans to bring the country back full circle to the Dark Ages. “No man is an island to himself” and no country can afford to stand alone surrounded by the ocean of adverse world opinion.
A true patriot, then, should be farseeing, without the most common of virtues, viz hindsight. He should be objective and reasonable, willing to lend an ear and open his heart to the opinions of other nationalities, however uncomplimentary and contrary they might be to the beliefs he has held for so long. His eyes should be open to events happening outside his “well”, and his opinions should not be made on a whim, but be back by concrete evidence. Once formed, they should not be swayed by gentle winds of opinion but hold its own against storms of criticisms, unless, of course, those storms do contain a nugget of truth. Above all, he should not be afraid to speak his mind, regardless of consequences.
A true patriot is a citizen of the planet he inhabits, first and foremost. Fly your flag if you must, but wear the badge of your humanity with pride. Nature treats every country with the same respect. It is time that every patriot did the same. The hope of this world is, as Tagore immortalised in Geetanjali:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit”