May 1, 2014

What are we saying?

Today I was at a bus station at 8am on the way to the next country over and a funny thing happened.

Where I currently live, at 8am and 6pm everywhere around the country, a national anthem is played. It is blasted from speakers in the style of the classic book, 1984. Whether walking down the street, doing aerobics in a groups of a thousand people in the park, or in the mall, everyone stops moving and stands completely still. No one speaks, no one moves, it feels like the twilight zone. Foreigners are often baffled and wonder if the world is coming to an end.

All is well. It's just the national anthem. In the bus station, I was eating my breakfast and drinking my tea at a table by myself in a large cafeteria. I realized that everyone was standing up, so I did the same. The national anthem played and I noticed a local who didn't stand up nearby. The culture in this city of ten million is one where people can do whatever they want and are largely ignored by others. I learned that respect for the national anthem is not one of those things that can be ignored. When the national anthem was over, I watched a rural-looking man walk over to the lady and mention that it was inappropriate for her not to stand. He even pointed my way in the short interaction. I assume that he was telling her that even the foreigner stood up.

In addition to the national anthem at 8am and 6pm played on loudspeakers, before every film at the movie theater, everyone must stand for the King's Anthem. I have seen several versions and some bring me to tears with awe and pride of the country where I live, and other versions just seem silly.

Standing for a national anthem or a two minute song about the king, what is the affect of these national advertisements on the people? Do they bring us together? Are they simply annoyances? Does the brainwashing work?

Growing up, we had to stand to say the "Pledge of Allegiance" to our national flag every morning in school. I stood and put my hand on my heart, but always felt that there was something icky about it. I rarely said the words with the group. Maybe I was silently protesting. My reasoning at the time was my discomfort in speaking the same words with a large group simultaneously. There was and still is a feeling of brainwashing that I do not accept. There is also an insincerity when the words are repeated mindlessly every day without even considering their meaning.

The meaning of my birth country's brainwashing ritual is:
(1) I pledge allegiance to my country
(2) The country is one nation, under God, it cannot be divided, and everyone gets liberty and justice.

My response to (1):
I have issue with being forced to pledge myself to anything. I'm happy to give every bit of myself to a cause of my choosing, to a woman, to an activity, to a goal, but not if I have no choice in the matter. I did not choose my birth country. I did not choose the passport. As I'm writing this, I don't choose to live there. How is it that I have to identify myself to others as being "from" this place for the rest of my life? Maybe home is where you rest your head, maybe it's a person, or maybe it is your blog.

My response to (2):
Is the country one nation where we are all working toward the same goals. Is it really free and fair? What is God doing in this recitation as we prostrate ourselves to the nation? Does the mention of God make the nation higher or better? Should I be inspired now?

My parent's generation had to say the Lord's prayer in school every morning. It begins "Our father who art in heaven..." and is essentially a Christian prayer about God. This was phased out with the separation between church and state and was replaced by the "Pledge of Allegiance." Now we essentially say a prayer to the flag. God has been replaced by nationalism. What happens when the things you are brainwashed to believe in are not representative of your beliefs? What happens if they betray you? What can you believe in if the things that come out of your own mouth are a lie?

I met a Canadian guy one night and showed him around the city. One of the first things he said to me was, "What do you care about?" I knew we'd be buddies immediately, a kindred spirit. I used to be similarly blunt and upon first meeting ask people questions that dig to the heart of the matter. This guy also told me within the first couple minutes I met him that he was depressed, suicidal, and was looking for meaning, spirituality, something he was missing. This was his reasoning behind borrowing a bunch of money he didn't have, and jumping on a plane to the other side of the world, Asia. After a short period, he got a flight to some spiritual Mecca-type place in the the middle east, and later back to Canada because his girlfriend was sending him a huge volume of emails about how much she loved him.

When talking to someone like the Canadian guy, the usual questions that everyone asks each other upon meeting don't apply. "Where are you from, what do you do for work, are you married" are useless. He and I don't care. They do not apply to us. They are situational and inconsequential and have little to do with what matters. Good questions for me are: "What do you think about? What do you care about? What makes you happy?"

The next time you thoughtlessly say or sing a national anthem, consider whether you actually believe the words you are repeating. The next time you meet someone for the first time or for the hundredth time, consider whether you are saying what you want to say, or if you are simply following convention to stay within the realm of appropriate interaction. Before you speak, don't forget to think.

No comments:

Post a Comment