Now This Is an Idea Worth Fighting For

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A man kneels with a folded U.S. flag as the POTUS motorcade
passes him in Indianapolis. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I’VE BEEN THINKING

“America is an idea. America is the greatest idea that the world ever came up with.” — Bono

I just love that quote from Bono because it’s so true. America is definitely the greatest idea that the world has ever come up with.

Now, that doesn’t mean our nation is perfect. It doesn’t mean we don’t have problems. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep striving to do better. It just means that the idea that defines the bedrock of this great nation is still the greatest idea ever. May we not lose sight of that.

America was founded upon an idea. We were also founded by people who took a stand. That’s our heritage, and it’s part of what makes the idea of this nation so great.

This week, there has been a lot of discussion about taking a knee and locking arms. There has been a lot of discussion about how to respect our flag and our “National Anthem,” about how to acknowledge and address racism, and about how to define what it really means to be an American.

There have been people taking stands everywhere—from Capitol Hill, to sports fields, to TV screens (thank you, Jimmy Kimmel, for using your platform to take a stand on health care).

I’ve been asked countless times, “What’s going on? Why is this happening? What would you do?” I’ve been thinking about it all week, and I don’t have all of the answers, but here is what I know for sure: I am proud to be an American. I respect our flag and those who fought for our great country. I also believe that when it comes to race relations, we can and must do better.

I understand why so many athletes took a knee. Personally, I preferred the way the Dallas Cowboys’ managed the situation—by locking arms, kneeling, and then standing for the “National Anthem.” To me, that was an acknowledgment of what is, as well as a sign of respect for who we are as a country. I also appreciated how the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears handled it Thursday night—by locking arms and then encouraging fans of both teams to do the same. It’s an example of inclusivity that’s worth recognizing.

Personally, I don’t believe that people who take a knee don’t love their country. I think you can both love your country and take a knee to acknowledge what is, while committing to doing better.

What would I have done? I would have taken a knee. Actually, I would have knelt on both my knees because I believe that if we want to fulfill the idea of us, then we have got to get humble. We have got to get real. And, we have got to stop segregating ourselves from one another. Nothing good or productive ever came from inciting our neighbors or calling them names.

I want people who have the pulpit to use it for good. I want them to use it to calm fears, not incite them. I want them to lead us forward with intelligence of the mind and heart, not continue to divide us and tear away at the idea of us.

Words matter. Tone matters. Awareness matters.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve become older (and hopefully wiser), is that life is a lot more gray than we are led to believe. You can protest and still be patriotic. You can be a good Catholic and take birth control. You can be smart, even if you didn’t do well in school. You can be divorced and still believe in marriage. You can be married, and still feel lonely. You can be old in numbers and young in spirit.

I’d much prefer to see someone vote and protest, then see someone not vote at all and still stand for the flag. So, let’s get above the noise and allow our fellow Americans to use their voices, without judgment.

Change is often messy, but if we are going to seek change, then we must first seek to better understand. We don’t have to trash talk our way to change. We don’t have to denigrate others to change. We don’t have to divide.

We cannot and should not let one person decide what it means to be an American. We should not let one person decide what’s right and wrong. No one person or party owns the American flag or our country.

You can, in fact, take a knee and still respect your country. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are part of the big idea.

 

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