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Patriotism: A Psychological Dynamic

28 August 2020 | by Alan Anthony Roy

Out of the patriotism and solidarity of our forefathers 63 years ago, a nation was born – Malaysia. Bearing the same flame, they fought hard against the innumerable adversities and setbacks inevitable as an independent country, and soon our world developed and flourished. Look how far we’ve come. Yet, our spirit never dwindled, Our eyes still burn with love for Malaysia; our patriotism still stands strong. Why?

No, really, why? Why do I love my country? What makes it so special to me that it deserves my love and my loyalty? What even is patriotism? For something so deeply ingrained and deeply connected to our history, culture and, dare I say, identity; we so often take it for granted, revisiting it annually on occasions of celebration and achievement, but without so much as a glance.

Today, we change that. We try to scratch the tip of this magnificent iceberg, patriotism. The notion is not new – it is ancient. In every corner of the world, all throughout history, the fire of patriotism enflamed the hearts of all people, obliging them to serve in love their fellow countrymen, even unto death, for there is no greater sacrifice than to give one’s life for one’s friends. The country was not only worthy of allegiance, but also of the ultimate self-sacrifice. “What good citizen would hesitate to welcome death if it were profitable for the fatherland?”, so asked Cicero. Patriotism prevailed in the age of kingships and conquest, it proved might in war an politics, it inspired courage and character- it burns. But why? Surely, there is a reason for a love so intense it even warrants self-sacrifice!

There are many ways to answer this question; in my experience, many are tempted to fall back onto a litany of national achievements and merits that supposedly warrant the love of and loyalty to their country (at times, myself included!) However, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth: what if a neighbouring country has more achievements and merits than mine? My patriotism would be redirected! That is absolutely absurd and unacceptable. But why else is a patriot patriotic? Maybe, there is no need to reason at all. Patriotism might just mean to love and to be loyal to one’s country simply because it is their country. It sounds ignorant and almost sub-rational, but perhaps there is more than meets the eye. Whether or not one is aware of it, there is a hidden significance in recognising and identifying oneself with one’s country and taking pride in it. For in doing so, one demonstrates a basic psychological dynamic that is central to our nature and observable even in everyday behaviour.

It is our need for belonging and connectedness, as well as for safety and security, that first and foremost informs our patriotism. Patriotism creates a “we” that fulfils our need for belonging and security; the fulfilment of these needs are symbolically represented in patriotic symbols such as our flag – the Jalur Gemilang, our song – the Negaraku, etc. No matter the particularities of patriotic behaviour, the nation nevertheless becomes a metaphor for a family wherein belonging and security are found.

So be it: I love my country. Why? Because it is my country; I belong to it!

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