Fact or Opinion?

news-stories

I usually listen to the radio whenever I’m driving. Rather than being a distraction, it is a habit that keeps me more alert. I tend to prefer talk radio but I’ve grown weary of political tirades, so my go to station of late is NPR. I enjoy the informative programming through which I learn lots of interesting facts. A few evenings ago I was returning home when I happened upon a newscast from BBC that lasted for most of the forty five minutes that it took me to reach my destination. I found myself feeling enchanted by the way in which the reporting was done. Refreshingly it was simply a recitation of factual events with no hint of editorializing. The news stories moved along so quickly that the narrator was able to provide information on literally dozens of world events of which I had little or no prior knowledge. By the time I drove into my garage I felt rather knowledgeable about situations from Turkey to Kenya to Myanmar. I found myself wondering why our own national news programs spend so much time on far less important situations, and why the reporters feel the need to discuss and analyze what is happening rather than just telling us about the events of the day without commentary. There is a certain irony that British broadcasting was so succinct and fact filled while ours now seems intent on creating controversy and inciting emotional responses. Perhaps we have brought this trend on ourselves because at the end of the day news stations are businesses and businesses must make money which means that they need high ratings. In other words we are pandering to the state of broadcast journalism by tuning in and accepting the politicization.

It used to be that news stories were based on “Ws and an H,”  such as who, what, where, when and how. Opinions were the domain of editorial pages and programs. We expected to hear differing points of view on Meet the Press, but the nightly news was more often than not an exercise in providing only information. We thought of remarks intended to change our minds as being propaganda. Now we endure personal attitudes in virtually every version of the news perhaps with the exception of local programming which still tends to follow a fact driven format. It’s enough to drive us all mad and it tends to encourage the airing of controversial stories over those that simply provide needed information, and then allow each individual to add their own personal spin to what they have heard.

I really believe that we need to more carefully delineate fact from opinion. We teach children this important concept from the time that they are very young, but then as adults we fall into the trap of accepting someone else’s thinking as factual. As a society far too many of us are blurring the line between actual news and editorializing. This has created culture wars and idealogical divisions that are unnecessary and has led to a tendency to defend points of view with false narratives and soundbites. In other words we appear to be living in an epoch that actually trivializes the news and our politicians are taking full advantage of the situation.

I have listened to old school radio programming in which Edward R. Murrow used words to describe world situations. His elegant use of the English language was almost poetic, but it also provided vivid mental pictures of what was actually happening, not how he felt about what he was seeing or whether or not such things should have been happening. That was the right way to present the news. In fact it should always be up to the listener or viewer to fill in the blanks of feelings and emotions, not the person who is on the scene giving us an update.

I actually enjoy the kinds of programs that provide an editorial analysis of current events, especially those that strive to provide alternate points of view. They give us an opportunity to think critically as long as they are transparent and willing to give each side of an argument an uninterrupted platform. I don’t mind at all when the guests debate one another, but I prefer for the host to be a moderator, not someone who joins in the fray. All too often these venues devolve into efforts to change minds and to advocate for one side over the other. That’s when I tend to sigh and then tune out. I suppose that I’d prefer just watching something like a Lincoln Douglas debate to feeling as though my intelligence is being insulted by biased reporting.

It’s funny how we teach students how to spot propaganda and then we unwittingly fall for it time and time again. We expect politicians to engage in such shenanigans because it is the nature of the beast, but when those charged with providing us with the news twist information to fit personal agendas I cringe. I believe that most people have enough common sense to decide for themselves how to react to the events that take place each day. None of us need interpretations. When those things happen there should always be full disclosure that what is being reported is a personal opinion rather than a fact.

I doubt that things will change anytime soon, so I will have to find alternative methods of seeking the truth. I would love for our American newscasters to learn a bit from the BBC. I think we would all be the better for getting more information about not only local and national events, but also the goings on around the world. We really do need to know about the problems in Myanmar and the elections in Liberia. We don’t live on an island and what happens in lands far away will indeed have an effect on things here. Ours is a global economy and we share a political symbiosis with everyone. We really are better served when we are informed. While we may be all abuzz about athletes kneeling for the national anthem, we also need to understand what the effects of famine in another part of the world will be on all of us. The truth is that we are spending far too much time being manipulated into arguments with one another when far more pressing issues are facing us. While we are being mesmerized by indignation over an individual’s sexual sins, there are citizens among us who are struggling with real problems that the infighting is preventing us from solving. While the media and the politicians are stirring up our anger and emotions they get away with making us believe that there is always somebody else to blame for the inaction that leaves so many in a state of distress.

We’ve got real work to do and it will only be done when we learn the facts and then decide how to address them. We can no longer afford to be taken in by propaganda masquerading as truth. Perhaps its time to quit rewarding the news programming that has so lost its way by providing them with the ratings they so need. If we were to turn them off and then boost the viewership of those who follow the old school rules of reporting without all of the chattering and blathering, then the spin might end. Until we do this we will be subject to the fighting that is slowly but surely tearing us apart and preventing us from accomplishing anything.  I don’t know about you, but I for one have grown weary of being manipulated.

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Arming for the Good

CkgWhiteBackPeopleThere were no guns in the home where I grew up. My mom was a widow and had never felt particularly comfortable around weapons of any kind and so I never really thought much about owning a pistol or a rifle. I did, however, have a number of relatives who were rather casual about having and using guns. A bachelor uncle who lived with my maternal grandmother kept a loaded pistol on his dresser that fascinated me and all of the cousins, but we had been schooled in respect for personal property and so we never thought to even run our fingers over the the object that was a fixture in our uncle’s room along with matchbooks, cigarettes and loose change. Several other uncles were hunters who braved cold damp weather each year and enjoyed telling stories of their rifles and their adventures. My cousins who were their children eventually learned how to use firearms safely and tended to take it for granted that everyone felt as comfortable around them as they did. I suspect that I was most amazed in knowing that my paternal grandmother often hunted in the hills behind her farm. We were often treated to wild animal delicacies that she had bagged and then turned into gourmet fare. While my brothers enjoyed the tastes of wild game I was unable to erase the images of the animals from my mind, and so I was never able to bring myself to even taste those dishes. When my brothers and I were grown only one among us became an avid hunter in the tradition of so many of our relatives. I never developed a comfort around guns, not even when I married and learned that my spouse was as relaxed with the idea of owning arms as most of my kin had been. He had grown up around men who regularly hunted, but he actually disliked that sport and only enjoyed testing his weaponry on paper targets rather than living creatures. We installed a safe to lock his armaments away and forged a separate peace in terms of having them inside our home.

What I know is that every single person in my family always handled their guns with respect for their power. They understood and followed the rules of safety so well that I never felt threatened by the fact that they were hidden somewhere in their houses. I never had any fear of them being used in an evil fashion. My uncles and grandmother and cousins and husband were responsible in the way in which they handled the ownership of weapons, and so I took it for granted that I would be safe not because they would protect me with their arms, but because they had been well trained in the proper use and storage of them.

A great debate is raging in our country over whether or not ordinary citizens should even own guns or if there should at the very least be restrictions on the numbers and types of firearms that should be available. It’s an emotional topic with good and bad arguments on both sides. It is true that millions of people own guns and never even have the thought of harming another human with their weaponry. They are good individuals who take their duties seriously and can’t understand why they should surrender their guns simply because now and again some murderous and evil scumbag wreaks havoc on society using firearms. Even with the alarming rate of gun violence they argue that it is still a minuscule portion of society that misuses weapons in such ways. They further contend that if someone is intent on harming others they will find a manner in which to do so whether the laws are in their way or not. I suspect that there is some merit in their contentions, but I’ve never quite been converted to felling absolutely comfortable about the laxity of our gun laws, and in many regards I am bothered by the sheer numbers of them and the fascination of them by so many whom I do not trust as much as my relations.

As I attempt to become thoroughly familiar with our nation’s gun laws I see problems that create the potential for grave abuses and I can’t help but wonder why responsible gun owners are so against at least closing the most glaring loopholes. In the most recent carnage caused by a killer almost sixty humans were mowed down in a nine minute time frame. The first thoughts were that the mass murderer had used an automatic weapon because the shots were obviously fired more quickly than possible with a semi-automatic weapon. It was confusing because automatic weapons have been illegal since 1986, but we soon learned that there are ways to get around that dictate, and it seems that the evil doer had taken advantage of them. It seems that mechanisms known as bump stocks are legal and often used with semi-automatic guns to simulate the same effects as an automatic gun. What I want to know is why in the name of logic would our lawmakers allow such an item to even exist when the intent of the 1986 legislation was to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of ordinary citizens? The shocking truth of this matter is absurd.

We also have other glaring omissions that pro gun supporters continue to endorse even though they make no sense whatsoever. Most gun show dealers are heavily regulated and require customers to register for permits, but if someone attends one of those events and walks into the parking lot where a private citizen is selling arms from the trunk of his car the reach of the law breaks down. We also have no idea whatsoever who owns what and how many. We take a numerical counting of how much money people make, how many people live inside homes, what cars they drive and so on, but we are completely lax when it comes to an accounting of firearms. Some of the same advocates of voter ID cards contend that owning firearms should be a private thing that is none of the government’s business, and so once a citizen has passed muster to purchase a gun the record is eventually destroyed.

The most popular guns in the country are semi-automatic firearms that were illegal until the legislation outlawing them lapsed. They may be fun to shoot, but they are hardly necessary in our society, especially in light of the most recent information about how easily they are adapted to be more like automatic weaponry. I frankly can’t understand why anyone would ever need such a thing.

The most frequently expressed fear of gun owners is that if we tighten the laws here and there it will be just a matter of time until the government decides to confiscate all firearms. They further contend that criminals will always find a way to find weapons and that anyone intent on evil will be successful regardless of any measures we may take. They may be right, but I see no harm in taking a few steps to clean up the wild west feel of our laxity when it comes to managing the reasonable ownership of guns in this country. I am quite frankly appalled by the spread of open carry laws that are slowly but surely bringing more and more firearms even onto places like college campuses. The idea that we should just throw up our hands and surrender because nothing will work anyway is an absurdity. We have speed limits even though some people ignore them. We are required to pass a test before driving a car even though some people skip that step and just jump behind the wheel. There are rules of all sorts that are broken but we don’t toss them out. We have ten commandments from God that people continually sin against, but we still value those basic laws. So why can’t we at least attempt to slow down the manufacture and purchase of implements that are so dangerous?

I think that we need to do something to send a message to our society that we value human life so much that we are all willing to work together for a compromise that cleans up the gooey mess that gun legislation or lack of it has created. We don’t have to take away arms from the ordinary guy who means no harm, nor should we neglect to tighten up our rules just because we don’t believe that they will make a difference. There is a middle pathway that will begin the process of healing. I hear so many advocating prayer and saying that we need to unify. Why not use this moment as the time in history when we chose to become brothers and sisters once again? This is an opportunity to arm ourselves with a spirit of brotherly love. U fail to see how that is bad.

A No Gladiator Zone

gladiators-12I remember a time when I was in the eighth grade and my entire class was called together because the teachers and the principal of the school were displeased with our general behavior. I was honestly a very good girl, a student who always wanted to be respectful, obedient and pleasing to my elders. I did not understand why I was being subjected to what amounted to a harangue about how bad me and my peers were. About five minutes into the all encompassing lecture I stopped listening. The tongue lashing continued for quite some time but I was not interested in hearing any of it because I did not believe that it applied to me. Furthermore I left that assembly feeling intensely angry over the insults that had been hurled at me and my classmates, and I felt more attached to my fellow students than ever including those whom I knew had created the furor with their less than sterling actions. Lumping an entire group into one basket of stereotyping does that. It creates unified tribes that might otherwise not exist.

We humans are funny like that. We don’t like the idea of being misunderstood and viewed negatively by anyone who makes sweeping assumptions about us. When those things happen we get as angry as I did when the teachers subjected me to a lecture that I knew was unfair. Such situations all too often push people to react negatively or emotionally and to ally themselves with groups in which they might otherwise have had no interest. Thus it is with the political climate in the United States today. We can’t get anything done because we are too busy thoughtlessly bashing one another. Far too many of people are no longer interested in the least in listening to what the other side might have to say, because they feel that they have been insulted one time too many. Thus we find ourselves deadlocked, divided to the point of hatefulness. The situation is so bad that I sometimes find myself wondering if we will ever again be able to work together for the common good of our nation. Things look very bleak as of now, and those who lead us are not helping with the matter. No side is innocent in this war of words and ideas that more closely resembles the battle between the Hatfields and McCoys than rational political discourse. Until the yelling, accusatory and self righteous behaviors cease or at least subside we are in deep trouble.

At first glance we appear to have a vast gulf of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, but that is an over simplification of the problem that contributes to much of the rancor. Within the Republican party there are multiple layers of thinking that range from the far right to stances that are much more liberal. The Democrats also have their differences, and battles for the heart of the party ensue between those on the far left and those who trend more toward the middle of the road. Unfortunately there is a tendency to simplify reality by assuming that there is one set of identical Republicans and one set of matching Democrats. So we find far too many people posing arguments that are filled with fixed images about each of the parties.

So how does this look in the real world? Well, if someone is thought to be a Republican they may be subject to taunts from progressives that classify them as rednecks, bigots, mean spirited, ignorant, racist, homophobic, religious zealots, gun toters, abominable, haters and so on. The people who so easily toss around these highly charged labels then wonder why individuals who tend to be more conservative are often unwilling to listen to them. It is actually human nature that they would be defensive, and ready to pick a fight at the first utterance of such words.

On the other side we have Democrats who are accused of being snowflakes, enablers, communists, overly sensitive, emotional, liars, unpatriotic, lazy, rude, too politically correct, overly liberal, crooks, and other pejoratives too inflammatory to print. Again, why would someone who has had to endure such wrath be the slightest bit interested in hearing what the other side has to say? Thus we reach the present state of impasse on so many issues that are important to the American people. With the “my way or the highway” attitude that is so persistent there is little chance that anything will be resolved. Sadly there are large numbers of people who demand all or nothing. Thus we are expected to join one side or another or be totally ostracized by almost everyone.

We have a health insurance system that is a mess. We know for a fact that the Affordable Care Act is riddled with problems, but there are solutions if only all interested parties were willing to sit at a bargaining table and consider the issues one by one. Our immigration system is broken and desperately needs fixing but the combatants on each extreme have planted their flags in the ground and seem unwilling to consider alternatives. We are expected to either cheer for a wall or open the borders without exceptions, when there are possibilities in the middle. We are concerned with gun violence in this country, but again little changes because neither side is willing to budge even a tiny bit. Instead we rant and rave and shout out slogans and soundbites. We either want to leave the country or desire to push out people who disagree. We are playing a zero sum game when what we need is a plan for win/win. In truth we are caught in the web of power grabs, victims of propaganda all the way around. We seem to be self righteously convinced that we are right and everyone else is wrong. We close our minds to any discussions that deviate from our own points of view and defend our stances with insults that only drive the other side farther and farther away.

It should be a given that we are all concerned with gun violence in our country. We all feel emotional about the unnecessary deaths of so many innocents. We all want the same thing which is to curb the trend of mass murder that only seems to grow. Our only differences are in how we think it is best to solve the problem. We never quite get started with any positive solutions because we would rather continue at a stalemate than consider the possibility that we might need a combination of the various ideas woven together by compromise. God forbid that we would actually have constructive bipartisan discussions. Those who even think of doing such things these days are deemed to be weak, traitors to some nebulous cause. We would rather do nothing than incrementally move toward agreement.

I hear good ideas from many points of view but they are being drowned out by the clatter of insults. I’ve been regularly attacked by both conservatives and liberals simply because I am willing to consider alternative solutions. I’ve been called wishy washy and naive for believing that we need to cool down long enough to just listen without thinking of what arguments we are going to present as soon as the other person is finished speaking. I’ve been on the receiving end of hateful retorts on many occasions when I have suggested gathering facts and then considering how they impact particular problems. I’d love to be able to brainstorm, but instead I constantly hear people voicing slogans rather than practical ideas for resolving our conflicts.

Ironically and perhaps thankfully I have heard some of the best analyses of our national problems from the young. They have not yet calcified their thinking. They are often far more open than their elders. They are willing to explore new possibilities. It gives me hope when I hear them very logically and accurately assessing the political landscape, but I’d hate to think that we will have to wait for them to become the leaders of the future for things to change.

I suspect that there are far more people who think like me than I have found of late. The squeaky wheels are getting the grease for now, but one day perhaps those of us who have grown weary of the gladiator fights will finally rise up and take the reigns of responsibility. I long for the day when we are once again willing to work together. We have to be a team and family, for if we aren’t our problems will only grow as will our rancor at one another. That would be a terrible shame because it was long ago predicted that the very nature of democracy itself would ultimately destroy it. In other words there have always been those who believe that mankind is not capable of being fully unselfish and willing to compromise to insure equality and justice for all. I pray that the naysayers are wrong. Let’s begin to create a no gladiator zone for resolving our differences. We have too much to lose to keep fighting.

How Do We Talk To The Children?

landscape-1445910041-g-talk-555173815We turn on the television to watch a couple of football teams duke it out on the gridiron and before the first play begins we see many of our heroes kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem. It angers some of us, and others appreciate that every citizen enjoys the freedom to protest. We begin a national discussion that sometimes devolves into an argument about how we should react to this development. Our president insinuates himself into the commentary using a pejorative to address the athletes that he finds offensive and suggesting that those who dare to insult the country should be fired. We line up to take sides. Some turn off their televisions and vow to never watch the NFL again. Others celebrate the rights of Americans to exercise their freedom of speech regardless of whether or not we agree with their sentiments. Many simply shake their heads and attempt to ignore the whole thing. In the midst of all the brouhaha we wonder what we should tell our children. How should we explain to them what is happening?

We live in a country that was founded with a rebellion against the perceived tyranny of a government that had lost touch with the needs of the people. At first there were merely demonstrations of dissatisfaction with the ever growing demands and limitations being placed on the colonists in America by a king and parliament too removed from the realities of daily living in the strange faraway place that seemed so rough and wild. Eventually the whispers and grumbles took on a more daring turn with rebels pouring tea into the Boston Harbor and concerns becoming more and more vocal and strident. Then came the shot heard round the world, the volley that began a war for liberty. It was a treasonous time when the leaders of the revolution risked death by hanging to create a nation far different from anything the world had ever before seen.

Perhaps it was a fluke that the ragtag band of revolutionaries somehow managed to defeat the most powerful nation in the world at that time. Whatever the case they found themselves freed from the dictates of a government that had often ruled without consideration of the people, ordinary citizens who had insisted that they it was their birth right to have a voice in how they were to be treated. The new nation needed a Constitution, a set of rules to guide the decision making and management of a disparate group of people. The document that they created was at once both brilliant and imperfect, but it held the seeds for eventually moving toward a more inclusive and more perfect union. More than two hundred years later we still have work to do. We have had to face the hypocrisy of having been a democracy that allowed humans to be held as slaves and denied that women had the same rights as men. It took us perhaps to bit too long to remedy those situations, but we eventually managed to become more inclusive. In the meantime the residue of problems not adequately addressed from our government’s beginnings continue to demand attention, and so we have protests from some of our star athletes. Just what is it that they want?

If we begin with the individual who first remained seated during the playing of the national anthem we find that he was concerned that there is still racism in our country. He believed that in spite of a civil war, a civil rights movement, and civil rights legislation there are still too many people in our country who do not receive the same level of equality as those who have held the privileges of liberty from the beginning days of our nation. He worried that many whose ancestors were once slaves are more likely to be brutalized or even murdered by law enforcement officers. He wanted to bring attention to these issues and so he remained seated. After a discussion with a member of the army after his first demonstration he changed his tactic to going down on one knee out of deference to those who have served our country in the military. His point was not to show a lack of respect for our flag, our national anthem or our veterans, but to shine a light on issues that he felt we need to address as a nation.

This athlete’s cause had lost its energy to a large extent until President Trump made remarks at a political rally in Alabama that some felt were out of line and threatening. He called out any athletes who demonstrate their dissatisfaction by taking a knee and referred to them as “sons of bitches” who should be fired from their jobs. His remarks were well received by some citizens and abhorred by others. A national disagreement has ensued resulting in ever more professional athletes joining in the revolt by kneeling in solidarity with teammates who had been quietly protesting. So what is really going on here? Who is being patriotic and who is treasonous? How should we respond?

Let us start with a bit of the history of our national anthem and our pledge of allegiance. First it must be noted that we did not have a national anthem until March 3, 1931, when Herbert Hoover signed a law deeming The Star Spangled Banner to be our national song to be sung at official gatherings. Several other tunes had been in the running and the winner was selected by a rather narrow margin. We might just as well have been singing America the Beautiful, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Yankee Doodle, Hail Columbia, or My Country Tis of Thee all of which were finalists in a contest that began with a cartoon from Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not fame. It seems that on November 3, 1929, Mr. Ripley registered his amazement that the United States was one of the few countries in the world that did not have an official anthem. He urged his readers to write Congress asking the lawmakers to rectify this omission. More than five million people sent letters and the search for a fitting song ensued. Even after the decision was finalized there were many who were gravely disappointed by the ultimate choice and others who felt that if the Founding Fathers had wanted to formalize an anthem with all of its ritualistic insinuations they would have done so. Since that had not happened many took it to be a sign that the founders did not approve of such things. Nonetheless we had an official anthem and slowly but surely it became a fixture of American life.

The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag did not happen until 1942, when some citizens began to worry that the large numbers of immigrants who had come to this country might not understand the true nature of our nation. It was used mainly as an educational tool for children rather than a symbol of patriotism. The original version was written by a socialist newspaper editor and did not contain the words “under God.” That phrase was added in the nineteen fifties, so the history of pledges and anthems is a rather recent cultural phenomenon. Many religious groups exempted themselves from participating in such rituals because they felt that they should only swear their loyalty to God and not to a country.

So here we are today taking sides or ignoring the dust up altogether when the truth is that we can’t be certain that those who wrote our Constitution ever intended for our country to enshrine such symbols as indicators of patriotism or a lack of it. The protestors themselves insist that their intention was never to be disrespectful but to take advantage of their rights of freedom of speech as it was written in the First Amendment. Perhaps when discussing all of this with our children we would do well to attempt to determine how our leaders have interpreted that right over the history of the United States. So forthwith are a few quotes of merit. I will let the words of the individuals speak for themselves.

If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. —-George Washington

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech. —-Benjamin Franklin

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we stand by the President right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people. —-Theodore Roosevelt

Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. —-Harry Truman

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. —-Elie Wiesel

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. —-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Read to your children. Look up ideas together. Discuss issues from both sides. Dialogue with them without rhetoric or preconceived notions. Teach your children to open their minds to new possibilities. That is what they need. That is how to talk with them about what they see happening.

For the Love

mlk8We hear a great deal about patriotism these days but what is it really? Is it only about displaying outward signs of allegiance to this great nation of ours, or is it something deeper, more visceral? I happen to believe that it is all about loving the United States of America so much that one is always concerned about it’s welfare. Sometimes that means having to do difficult things to ensure that democracy remains robust and available for each of us. That might mean serving in the military to protect freedoms, one of the noblest sacrifices that a citizen may make. It may also mean that an individual has to take a stand for what is right and just that is uncomfortable and maybe even misunderstood. Both of these behaviors are necessary at times in order for our country to sustain the principles upon which it was founded, and those which needed to be part of the compact made for the people of this land but were unfortunately omitted from the original declaration of rights. It is not only those who sing anthems and place their hands on their hearts who demonstrate patriotism, but also those who urge us to consider problems that need to be addressed to create an ever more perfect union.

I love this country in a very emotional way. I am filled with gratitude that I may call this glorious land my home, but I am not so prideful to believe that we are without our problems. We all know that there are certain difficulties that have plagued us from the very beginnings of our most remarkable government. It surely must give us pause to realize that we began this great democratic journey with slavery legitimized by law. How can we read the documents that counted enslaved people as two thirds of a person without feeling sorrow? Certainly we eventually had the moral courage to do what was right, but it should never have taken as long as it did. It is the main reason that I sob each time I stand inside the Lincoln Memorial and think upon the courage and patriotism that Abraham Lincoln possessed even to the point of being murdered for his beliefs. Thank God that he so loved this country that he was willing to endure great sorrow and the slings and arrows of criticism to finally set it on the right course. That was patriotism at its very best.

Most of our black neighbors are the descendants of slaves, people who came to this country in chains. A visit to an historic plantation is a painful experience. Walking through the splendor of the antebellum homes of slave owners and then seeing the horrific conditions in which their slaves lived is humbling and causes me to experience great sorrow. It doesn’t take much imagination upon seeing the implements by which the slaves were kept in line to realize how horrible their existence was. It is a blot on our history which we will only eliminate when we are all willing to accept that what happened to those who were treated as property was very wrong.

If we had simply moved forward once slavery was outlawed perhaps we would now be living as brothers and sisters. Instead we spent another hundred years segregating the blacks from our lives. I vividly remember what that looked like and it was ugly. Blacks lived in neighborhoods far from the rest of us. Their children were often housed in inferior schools, although there were incredible efforts made by their own people to overcome all of the educational handicaps that were thrown at them that even included barring black children from libraries. I remember the signs that kept our black neighbors from using our water fountains or bathrooms. We so cavalierly embarrassed our fellow citizens again and again. Sometimes there were even those who terrorized them with fiery crosses. I shudder when I think of a symbol of Jesus Himself being used in such a hateful way.

I could go on and on about what I witnessed, inhumane treatment that seemed unfair even to the child that I was. It was with great elation that I saw heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenge our country to correct the inequalities that were legitimized with laws that were unjust. Without violence he led a movement that would eventually overturn many of the inequities, but not until he and his cause had endured great strife and violence. He is to this very day another of my heroes, equal in stature to Abraham Lincoln. Dr. King is in my mind one of the great patriots of American history who raised our consciousness and challenged us make our country a better place.

Many seem to believe that the equitable evolution of the United States of America is finished. Sadly there is still work to be done, questions to be considered. As long as we still have situations in which certain classes of people are considered less eligible for our God given rights and freedoms, we must continue to insist that we have the moral fortitude to continue the discussions and take the needed measures to perfect our system of government. Those who wish to make America better are the true patriots, and it up to all of us to acknowledge rather than condemn their efforts.

We tend to view violence and riots as nonproductive ways of fighting for rights. We don’t really listen to people who would burn and destroy. It somehow seems counter to their arguments for justice. So we should be open to hearing the grievances of those who choose more peaceful means of highlighting their causes. What are people to do when we reject both methods? What are they to think? How frustrated they must be when we turn out backs without attempting to understand their frustrations. Thus it is with our current situation. Our history with the people whose ancestors we treated with so much disrespect are merely asking that we try harder to show them that we no longer view them as somehow being lesser citizens than we are. We insult them when we only react to their pleas with anger or when we ignore them altogether and wrap ourselves in our flags of patriotism as if we are somehow better Americans. One who truly loves this country would want to pause long enough to consider why people would subject themselves to our ire. If things felt okay and wonderful to them surely they would not risk so much to stand up for what they believe to be right and just. Why then can we not at least take the time to listen and dialogue rather than indicting them and accusing them of being unAmerican? Isn’t that a dramatic step backward? Can’t we see the irony in suggesting that they go away if they don’t like what is happening to them?

My heart is filled with nothing but love and appreciation for this country, but I also understand that it is not yet perfect and maybe never will be, but I am enough of a patriot to want it to be. I truly believe the the greatest patriots that this nation has known have been those who stood for something so important and so real that they were literally willing to make every imaginable sacrifice for the good of their fellow citizens. I stand with Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the men and women who fight for all of our freedoms in foreign lands. I also stand with those who have an important message for us to really hear. I will still get goosebumps when I hear the national anthem. I will feel a sense of relief when I return to my country from foreign soul. I will pledge my allegiance with all of my heart, but I will never turn my back on anyone who simply wants to improve this great land. Like a parent who guides a child and builds his/her character, so too are those who alert us to the things that we are doing imperfectly the true patriots among us.