Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Pledge

Good morning America, how are you?

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States(of America), and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation(under God), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Every one knows this, right? We all said it every morning while facing the flag, our hands covering our little grade school hearts. And I'm sure we all understood what a republic was....
The parenthetical phrases are the ones that were added to the original. Hence it should read,

"I pledge allegiance to the United States, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I like the second one better, to be sure. Let me tell you why. Let me also tell you why I think the way this is taught is irrepsonsible. And lets discuss what this means. Because this is an issue before the courts.

"I" is not we. The "I" here is a pro-noun that reflects the philosophical change that occurred in the 18th century, from that of group mentality to that of individualism. Yet we still live in a time where this is little understood, let alone lived. With all the mid-life crisis, menopausal crises, cults, sports, people in therapies, not to mention the numbers of prescriptions of Prozac, and other forms of vicarious living, it seems fairly evident that there is an "I" deficit in this country. And without the I, there is no we.

Being an I means, at a basic level, that I have learned to think for myself. I do not simply echo the thoughts of others. Rush Limbuagh, the addict of right wing radio, or one of them any way, stated that his listeners didn't need to read the news, because he would do that and then tell them what to think about it. But critical thinking is not something we are taught to do. And there is a difference between critical thinking and agreeing with others on an issue. If you arrive at a decision and discover others are in agreement with those thoughts, that is the way it is supposed to be. But we all must do our own thinking, and if need be, our own educating not just on the issues, but on critical thinking. Do not be distracted here by emotions. Emotions and thoughts can lead to two very different courses of action. Emotions can be used as adjuncts to thoughts, but it is reasoning that must primarily inform us.

"I" also means that I am a person with a voice. This is important in America because it is one of the founding principles of democracy. We all have a voice, we all have a vote. I agree that isn't necessarily reflected these days. It appears to be more an issue of how much money can I spend to buy a vote. But that can be changed by raising our voices in protest to our state legislator, and if they are suspected of being bought, then vote them out. Anyway, the point is that we as Americans all exist on a continuum of political viewpoints. The crucial point is to be able to think, to hear opposing arguments, and decipher the differences not necessarily according to a party line, but in accordance with what you believe. You must also be able to explain why you believe what you believe, and use your voice to do so. In days of not too old, the local bar or pub was where friends had these discussions. Friends had them. Rarely in church, rarely at home, a little at work. The important point is that you learn to say "I" insyead of we or us, and to be able to say why you believe what you believe.

Now, that sounds horribly selfish doesn't it? Remember, there is no 'I" in team. Let me share with you though a principal that exists in Buddhism as well as the national emergency repsonse organizations known as the fire departments and emergency medical technicians. The first rule, protect yourself! I must make sure that I am capable of responding to an emergency situation. If a scene is not safe, I do not enter it. Others may suffer for it, but if I endanger myself in the process of helping others, I have done nothing but add to the suffering and the work load of following emergency responders. In Buddhism, what good am I if I cannot speak from experience? Hence, I need to lead the way, and only after considerable experience that is verified by others can I begin to help others. I certainly can't help you toward enlightenment if I don't do it myself now can I?

Such is the core of our freedom and democracy. The ability to be an "I" that exists in a community of like individuals. Personally, I think that the mad rush in this country is toward addiction. I've noticed lately the ever increasing ads to play poker. To gamble. To get the rush. Another thing I have noticed is an alarming increase in the advertising of TV shows on the radio. The end result of that advertising is to make Americans couch pototoes. TV addicts. Look at the popularity of "reality" shows. They are not reality at all. They resemble nothing that exists in the real world, and yet look at how many stations now have them. This is why I don't watch much television. I watch M*A*S*H, and Frasier. Part of a Notre Dame game now and again. A good movie now and again. And obviously I sit here and create. The point here is, we all need to have our own articulate voice so that we can be a better society.

"I pledge...." Not many of us do this any more. Not regularly. Pledging is not common, though I have heard various reports of pledges being taken at rallies to screen out dissenters that would heckle the President. So what is a pledge? It's a solemn binding promise to do or to give or to refrain from something. Something thast is given some thought so that there is a willful choice to make the pledge. And of course, it requires an "I" that has thought out the words of this particular pledge to be able to make it. A pledge is not a jingoist emtional response that cannot articulate what the clauses in this pledge mean. It means I took the time to understand what the words mean, what I think about them, and whether or not I feel that I can make this pledge. For example, I don't care for the first phrase. A flag is nothing but a symbol. The pledge says so, "...for which it stands...." Along the lines of the evolving understanding of free speech, the courts have stated that burning an American flag is an acceptable form of free speech. I would have to look up that decision to read exactly the details of why they came to that conclusion, but the implication is that the flag in and of itself is nothing more than a symbol. I pledge my allegiance to what the flag symbollizes, but not necessarily the flag itself. But that it my opinion.


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