Thoughts on National Identity

As a Brit that has spent some years living and working in the States, the one thing that always strikes me about America is how unapologetically patriotic the people are. I saw the national flag every single day I was in America. I worked at summer camps where the pledge of allegiance was recited every morning. I’d go to sporting events where stadiums would erupt into the Star-Spangled banner.

Don’t get me wrong, America is a darn good country to live in and I love it dearly. Nevertheless I never fail to cringe a little when I hear certain American people (mainly in the media and crazy commenters on YouTube) openly proclaim that their country is the best country in the entire world. Firstly, I don’t believe any country can objectively claim to be the best country in the world. And secondly, if there was a best country, I’d like to hope the residents of it would be more humble about how brilliant they are.

I find this type of patriotism can often become blurred with arrogance. Obviously this is not unique to America. The UK is just as bad in terms of arrogance. I am merely using the US as an example as it is the place I have spent the most time in as a foreigner.

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I have had countless interactions with Americans who boast about ‘beating the British in the revolution’ or ‘saving our ass in World War II’. This is normally said in good humour (or ‘humor’ in this case) and these conversations normally end in laughs and playful mocking. However, in many cases, there is always a part of them that earnestly believes what they are saying. This is something I have never understood.

Predisposed beliefs and ideologies shouldn’t solely define you as a person/or society. Most of us had nothing to do with the construction of our countries and it just seems rather egotistical to take credit for other peoples achievements who happen to have the same nationality. I am British, but I was not responsible for the Industrial Revolution, discovering penicillin, The Beatles, or any other thing that other “British People” did. I was just born on the same bit of land, have a passport from there and speak the same language. The comparisons end there.

Also, if you want to boast and take credit for other peoples past achievements, then you also need to own up to the horrible things people in your country have done. Slavery, mass inequality, capital punishment etc. I’m sure the terrible list is a lot longer than the positives list. You can’t pick and choose.

Nationalism has its place and is great for helping people find their sense of belonging. People need to connect and identify themselves to ideas and causes that makes them feel apart of something bigger. However it becomes a real problem when these ideas stand in the way of positive change. Traditions and customs are just concepts somebody at sometime in the past made up. They are not set in stone and can be altered if they are no longer a good thing.

I am very lucky to have been born into first-world conditions. But that is all it is, complete luck. I am British purely because my ancestors ended up there, it’s not something I’ve achieved or worked at. I am the product of prior causes which I didn’t choose and had absolutely no hand in creating. I never choose to be born where I was. Just like you never choose to be where you’re from. Being British isn’t part of human DNA. No baby has ever popped out of the womb gagging for a cup of tea saying ‘God save the queen!’. Nationality is something we learn and is a very subjective construction.

Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell said about his experience viewing the Earth from the moon:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'”

Astronaut Frank Borman similarly said:

“When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.”

I feel these quotes beautifully complement what I was trying to articulate. I find it interesting that among the small number of people who have seen our planet from space, how common this sense of enlightenment is. We are all one family, and when you look at the earth from such a distance, it becomes very clear.

Recently I prefer to consider myself a global citizen. I believe one’s identity should transcend geography or political borders and that you shouldn’t be defined by the arbitrary bit of land you were born in. I know this sounds rather ‘New Agey’, but I think people need to start thinking of themselves as ‘Human’ before ‘British’, ‘French’, ‘American’, etc. Only by supporting the development of global citizens, can we foster a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world for everyone.

I would love to hear your thoughts and whether you agree or disagree.

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28 thoughts on “Thoughts on National Identity

  1. I love my country, the people, and the lessons learned from our accomplishments and failures. I love traveling, and have seen many, many beautiful place outside of America, but there is no place I would rather be than right here. It’s my home and for me, home is always the best place to be 🙂

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  2. Frankly I don’t see my country as being the so-called ‘Best’ it has it’s flaws (more now than ever) just like every country. If instead of all the red tape they have to go through to get a law passed for instance. instead of these idiots in the white house deciding what is best for us as a nation, frankly I see if we get to vote in a president, that we should get to decide as a nation, state & city what is best for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not everyone thinks in terms of ‘best’ and ‘worst’, but there are people out there who unquestionably think this.
      I think the people in power no longer represent the views of the population. You are very right that we should be able to decide as a nation, state & city what is best for us. We need a distribution of power. Lets hope this becomes reality one day!

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  3. Hahaha very funny! You write well and have interesting opinions 🙂 I agree with the fact that no one can objectively claim that their country is the best, or that their religion is the best, or that their mother cooks the best food. It’s just not possible! Also, being from America, I completely understand what you mean about people being “unapologetically patriotic”. It’s just a thing here. But on the other hand, I do think that a bit of nationalism is needed. People identify with causes/groups/ideas and often base most of their lives around them! Where would the world be without these different associations? People would literally have nothing to talk about or do if people didn’t have these strong feelings. So all in all, it’s good to have a bit of pride in something 🙂 But too much pride, like anything, is a vice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, I appreciate your encouraging words 🙂
      I also think nationalism is very important. Somedays I feel very patriotic towards my country. I contradict myself with stuff like this all the time. Like you say, people need to connect and identify themselves to ideas/groups/causes to feel apart of something bigger. But I think people often forget that ‘tradition’ and ‘customs’ are just concepts somebody at sometime in the past made up. They are not set in stone and can be altered if they are no longer a good thing.
      But yes, it’s good to have a bit of pride in something 🙂

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      1. I agree with you and I think that’s a great point. We have to evaluate our thoughts and recognize why we think the way that we do. If we are drawn to these things simply because of tradition or habit, we should probably think a little deeper and create new reasons of our own. Doing that would give our actions and words some more meaning I think

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  4. I believe the countries of the world are evolving and healing. Often it doesn’t seem that way though, and probably the majority of people think things are getting worse. I think you have to look at the bigger picture – past, present, future.

    People evolve and heal historically. Eventually things come into balance as communities and countries, and souls grow from their past and learn from it as to not repeat it over and over.

    Balance of the masculine and feminine principals are the key and it’s a slow process.

    I’m a kiwi and love NZ – it’s good to have pride and I love that we are ‘nuke free’ but like every country and every person in the world.. we have issues! :o)

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  5. Thank you so much for putting this into words.
    I was born in Australia and have lived here all my life. The pressure to blindly love and stand by the actions of a nation simply because it’s your birthplace is particularly strong here. It’s absurd. Obviously it’s a privileged place to live and I’m lucky to have been born into first-world conditions like these.
    Nonetheless, I’m knocked back every time I voice an opinion against the decisions of our leaders or the social expectations. It’s the same for everybody. Patriotism has its place and is great for helping people find their sense of belonging, but it becomes a real problem when it stands in the way of positive change.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am glad you agree! I am obviously very lucky to have been born in relatively privileged conditions, but luck is all it is. Patriotism has a place. It is needed to connect and identify people to ideas and causes. But I think people often forget that these traditions are just concepts somebody at sometime in the past made up, and they are alterable if they are no longer valid. Predisposed beliefs and ideologies shouldn’t solely define you as a person/or society.

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  6. I am a very patriotic person and do I think the USA is the “best” country? Here’s my answer: Kinda-sorta. My take is every country/nationality in this world has something to offer some that is good as well as the not-so-good. So I like to think of the people from that country instead. And too many people stereotype various nationalities simply because of their heritage (country of origin). I take each person individually as there are good people and crappy people in every nationality and to look at any other way just adds the this worlds craziness. I like your writing style and the voice you use to express it. This world could use more people who care enough to do whatever they can to make one small change in today’s crazy making world. Especially younger generations who deal with so much growing up in today’s “all about me” and “instant” mindset. You just keep on sharing what you got going on. Plenty out there need interaction and direction to lead them to a higher conscience, myself included. Thanks for the article I enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your opinions. I also agree people need to be taken individually and not judged based on there nationality. Unfortunately not everyone thinks this way. it is a lot easier for people to judge each other based on national stereotypes and predisposed ideas. Love and acceptance should be a the forefront of society. This is something that needs to be taught to the younger generation.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this post. As a Brit that has been basically raised in the United States, and lived in 3 continents, it has been interesting, and sometimes frustrating. At this point in my life I don’t really consider myself a Brit or an American, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever really identify with a nationality at this point. But as a Brit, I have had every war thrown in my face on more occasions than I can possibly count. I’ve been stereotyped in multiple ways. And had my own country discounted purely because it wasn’t America.
    I went to a very small, conservative military college, where you can imagine patriotism was off the charts. I applaud the level of nationality that American citizens hold, but there comes a point when it becomes a closed minded approach. I did my best to enter concepts of other nations into conversations but was constantly shut down. Seldom did I find a soul who wanted to live anywhere outside of the U.S. I’m sure that this does not hold true for the entirety of the U.S. population, but I agree wholeheartedly that we, as a global population, need to find a way to accept responsibility for good and bad. In order to find peace we have to stop identifying who is best and worst and work on uplifting others so that we can all be better. Sadly, I’m not sure I’ll get to witness that in this lifetime.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am glad I am not alone in the war comments. It’s annoying right!?

      I think there is a lot of social pressure to identity yourself to a particular nation. It is easier for people to pigeonhole you and make assumptions based on stereotypes. But I think it is okay not to identify with a nationality. You are less likely to let predisposed beliefs and ideologies solely define you. It makes you more unique and interesting.

      I also feel the same as you. I grew up in England, but have spent time living in different countries. The more time I spend away from home the less connected I feel to it. Which I think it a good thing. If you are clinging to old beliefs you are not growing as a person.

      Nationalism serves a purpose, but it becomes a real problem when it stands in the way of positive change.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. War Comments –> Very annoying. I don’t even have a response for them anymore.

        I used to get really defensive when I told people that I was a Brit but had grown up in the States. People would instantly denounce that I was British and tell me that I was practically American. I didn’t want to associate myself as American if that meant that I wasn’t British anymore. It took me a long time to accept that maybe I was a little of both. It’s made harder by the fact that my family is entirely British, Welsh, or Scottish. I felt that by losing my identity with the nationality meant losing some of my family heritage.

        These days I’m so thankful to my parents. They’ve made it possible for me to see and live in several different cultures. Being witness to that just opens your mind. I wish it was possible to travel more. There’s so much I would like to try and see in the world. I agree entirely with what you say about clinging on to old beliefs holds you back from growing. I’ve learned that I can’t change the mind of everyone, nor can I force them to listen. Personally, I believe it comes down to education. We spend so much time focusing on the successes of America and it tends to overshadow the mistakes we’ve made. When we can start to make changes in the education system is when we might start to see positive changes.

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  8. I love America but continue to be horrified at how it has squandered its chance to be a true model for the rest of the world. For me the pinnacle was getting a man on the moon with friggin’ slide rules for crap’s sake. Then it got fat and greedy and lazy and oppressive and paranoid and ignorant and there are no words to describe how sad that makes me.

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  9. Now, to answer your request for thoughts on being global citizens. I agree in principle that we should strive to think that way and you are correct that we are born without knowledge of geographic borders, but becoming global citizens is HARD work. Why? For starters because we naturally group people into ‘us’ and ‘them. “Us” are familiar, safe, and think like we do. “They” look different, talk different, think different and as history has proven “they” are much easier to kill. Getting past that will be very difficult and even if you believe it is possible it won’t happen overnight or indeed in our lifetimes. Take, for example, same sex marriage. The US is having a huge problem with this and they are familiar with what they generally look and sound like. Now move that same conversation to Uganda and you’re now one of ‘they’ and will be jailed or worse before you get two sentences out. As long as it will take for America to make up its collective mind on how to treat same-sex couples it will take at least two more generations to either come to an agreement with Ugandan culture or to simply agree to disagree. Cultural differences are only resolved with time and changes to the population on both sides. They are not, contrary to American military opinion, solved militarily.

    Patience and diligence and in 20 years you’ll see improvements.

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  10. Your article is well written and should be required reading in school rooms across the globe. You are asking questions that we should all be asking. Having read the comments, zotzotzotblogger’s and missamyalyce’s also stood out to me.

    We humans, though we have grown infinitely technologically, are still pretty “apeish” and tribal in our brains. I think you allude to that in your post about sports. We still divide our own kind, the very same species, into “us” and “them” depending upon where we live. Some races, some of us may still not consider to even be people at all. That’s certainly the way many or most white people considered Native Americans when we took over their land. ‘Course, it was convenient to think that way because it made it easier for our conscious’ to justify theft and genocide.

    Here are some comments from astronauts:

    “When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.” ~ Frank Borman

    “The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.” ~ Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud

    We are at a turning point. Do we continue to evolve and begin to think of all races as human, as us, to become, as you say, Global Citizens? Or will we stubbornly cling to tribalism? And yet, I think that it has to go even beyond that. We need to sell ALL of life on this planet, indeed the planet as a whole as one, as us, and love and protect it as such. And we need to do it soon.
    Sorry for the pontification.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for such high compliments! You’re far too kind.

      I love the quotes. They reminded me of my favourite astronaut quote by Edgar D. Mitchell. He said of his experience viewing the Earth from the moon:

      “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”

      Just like the quotes you shared, it complements perfectly what I was trying to say in this post. (I may have to add it in as an addendum in an edit). I find it very interesting that among the small number of people who have seen our planet from space, how common this sense of enlightenment is. We are all one family, and when you look at the earth from such a distance, it becomes very clear.

      And don’t apologise, pontificate away!

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  11. very well put..and totally agree with you..these barriers of land, religion are petty if we consider that ultimately we all are humans…just humans..different from each other, but there is no need to put up walls for those differences…
    though sometimes reading some acts committed by people I wonder about where we are going..spiraling down..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! If we look at the bigger picture we are all just humans. No more or less. We need to start focusing on what makes us the same rather than on our differences.
      It’s an ideology that sadly may never be in our modern world.

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  12. I spent the first 40 years of my life as a South African, moved to the US (my American husband wouldn’t move, and one of us had to!) and spent 10 years digging in my heels over the issue of citizenship. Eventually it became a practical matter and I gave in, and now I get to annoy lots of people by referring to myself as African American. (I’m white.) Now, 16 years down, I don’t really feel I belong anywhere. I still feel a physical ache of longing for Africa – but in that I’m talking about the sounds of the voices, the music, the smells, the energy. I am heartbroken over what South Africa’s new breed of politicians have made of such a beautiful country, and I’m to “Americanized” to feel at home there.

    At the same time, I don’t feel “American” – in fact, American nationalism still gives me the horrors. Seems to me it’s such a very dangerous emotion, no matter what country you’re talking about! It always seems to go hand-in-hand with conquest and destruction of communities – I’m thinking of the Boers, the Conquistadores, the British Empire, the Nazis. I wish very much that we could learn to think more freely as individuals. Ummm … I actually just wrote something along those lines; if I may follow Ellen Hawley’s example, I’d love you to stop by and comment… 🙂

    https://americansoustannie.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/when-rights-and-freedom-collide/

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    1. Nationalism does have an ugly side–at least potentially. One aspect of American nationalism that’s always driven me crazy is the insistence on everyone stating their love for the country, as a kind of verbal flag-waving. Being the cantankerous sort that I am, it makes it hard for me to express any genuine love for it–the territory’s been so thoroughly colonized by the plastic kind.

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      1. You know that hand-on-heart thing they do when they hear the national anthem? I can’t do it. I’ve tried, but my hand won’t lift. If I pick it up with my other hand and place it on my chest, my fingers curl. And the more people glare at me, the more I cannot. (I do stand – that’s just polite.)

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