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“Needless to say, we are not talking about nationality, in the vulgar sense of the word; an insane antipathy for strangers; indifference to the general welfare of the human race, or an unjust preference for the supposed interest of our own country; a love of bad peculiarities because they are national, or a refusal to adopt what has been found good by other countries. We mean a principle of sympathy, not hostility; of union and not of separation. – John Stuart Mill

June is the month when we celebrate our independence, when flags come out of storage, when we reflect on our country – what we love and what we hate about it. There is a familiar refrain that emerges around this time, expressed in a phrase filled with both affection and exasperation: “Pilipinas, minsan kay hirap mong mahalin”.

It’s a statement that’s been made many times before and continues to provoke a reaction when uttered by anyone, especially those in the public eye. There are those who question the love of country of anyone who makes such a statement – and yet the answer is already there in the quote itself. There are those who take personal offense to the statement because it is sometimes loaded with condescension. There are those who take offense to the homeland, as if our homeland itself feels the sting of insult in the face of the temerity that a citizen must file a complaint.

Yet, as I have written before, “love of country” is not a simple thing. In that three-word phrase are two words the wise could spend decades arguing over. Neither love nor country can be defined so easily, and therefore love of country cannot be so easily grasped either.

I think it’s important to get away from the idea that love of country is natural – that it’s easy. A feature we take for granted is a feature we inevitably take for granted. A task we think is easy is a task we don’t prepare for. And we take lightly and without foresight something as important as love of country… We leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would use it for their own ends, who would reduce it to a matter of “us” versus “them”. and paint anything that undermines their power and privilege in the colors of the foreigner and the traitor.

There are those who believe that invading other nations is an appropriate expression of love for their country, blind to the consequences of war on each nation involved. There are also those who believe that only people who have the same political beliefs as them love their country.

A misdirected love of country is a danger to the nation and its people.

I’ve said it before: love can be possessive. He can be blind and heedless of anything but the object of his affection. “My country, rightly or wrongly” is at the heart of countless atrocities committed under the guise of a flag. And those who speak this lie like a mantra often have no real conception of a country itself.

A country is bigger than most think. Can any of us really say that he has traveled the length and breadth of all our islands, that he knows the hearts of all its inhabitants? A country is more than those in your own family, your own community, your comfort zone. It’s more than people who look like you, go to the same schools, enjoy the same hobbies, pray to the same God. A country includes people you don’t understand, people you don’t understand, people who believe in a way forward for the nation that is different from yours.

So no, love of country is not easy. It requires a mind capable of imagining a multitude of other lives and a heart capable of feeling compassion for them. Compassion, to pick up on Aristotle’s discussion of pity, requires three reflections: that serious harm has happened, that it has happened to a person who did not deserve the same thing, and that we are all vulnerable to this same evil in the same way. It is this kind of compassion that has motivated societies to create democracies (as opposed to tyrannies) and establish the rule of law (as opposed to the whims of a ruler).

But it is a compassion that is not possible without effort, without education, without the means to show people the wide range of lives lived within the borders of a nation. Most of us are brought up on the principle that all people are equal, but without the nurturing and exposure that lead to feelings of compassion – whether in books, travel, or simply listening to those who are different from us – such knowledge has no chance of motivating us to action.

And it’s action we need, because a love of country expressed simply by hanging a flag for seven days out of 365 is hardly a true expression of love – and “patriotism expressed in hurting our compatriots is the exact opposite. Love of country is not easy and it is not comfortable. This means – for everyone, especially for those who are privileged and in positions of power – not listening only to those who share the same opinions and worldview, not caring only about those who are in the same situation. . It means responding to the complaints, criticisms, tears and anger of our compatriots with an open mind and a clear eye, with hearts that seek compassion. And when that compassion isn’t immediately felt, don’t dismiss those cries, but learn more about them – about people who lead different lives, but who still share the same nation bond with us and who also love our country. . Compassion is not easy, but it can be learned. And taking positive steps to educate and mold our hearts in this way – it is an expression of our love of country.

A heart can only love a country if it has been big enough to encompass it all, good and bad; the familiar and the other.