With the fourth of July coming up, my Facebook feed seems to be divided into two camps: people who plan on wearing every red, white, and/or blue item in their wardrobe, and people who are already making arrangements to move to Canada.
These days, it seems that compromise is impossible. You see America as either a perfect haven of freedom or hell on earth. This can make patriotic holidays a nightmare if you decide to check social media or even go on the Internet at all.
The way I see it, being patriotic doesn't have to mean being blind to your country's flaws. Every country has flaws. No system is perfect.
But when people say they love their country, they don't necessarily mean that they love the government.
A nation is a huge and complex entity. It's made of a government, a wide variety of people, the land within its borders, rules, rights, freedoms, national icons, various cultures, sports teams, the military, space programs, flora and fauna… choosing just one of these things and saying that it defines the entire nation is buying into stereotypes.
With all of these things and more making up what we know as America, there is actually a lot to love. Going to a different state is like going to a different country without needing a passport.
We have amazing wildlife like deer and bald eagles. And a lot of important history happened here that has affected the rest of the world.
However, America is not without its flaws. The way we treated Native Americans and the way we continue to treat them is horrendous. And while our individualistic values have helped many to be able to make a new life for themselves, it's also created a culture that's extremely competitive.
That doesn't mean you can't have pride in your country. When a parent is proud of their child, they don't ignore all the child's flaws. Their pride is an acknowledgement of how far the child has come and how much potential they still have on the horizon.
Pride in one's country should be the same thing.
I have seen a lot of small towns become ghost towns because people have no pride in their community. They don't have faith in the people who live there, so they don't do their part either and it becomes a vicious cycle. I see America going down the same path and it saddens me.
This fourth of July and every other patriotic holiday, break out the firecrackers (after making sure the dog is safely secured inside) and fire up the barbecue. But also, be mindful of what your area needs and fulfill that need to the best of your ability.
Community service should not be seen as just a punishment for minor criminals. When you put work into improving something, you become emotionally invested in it as well. Community service should be an integral part of every child's education from kindergarten through college.
Too often we get caught up in the abstract and miss the concrete issues that are right in front of our noses. As an individual, you can't change the government. You can't stop wide-scale atrocities.
But you can plant a tree. You can walk a shelter dog. You can leave a positive Post-It note on a bathroom mirror. You can vote in your local elections. You can support small businesses and local farms.
The most American thing you can do this fourth of July is to make things better for the next generation.