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The Psychology of Patriotism

Posted by admin on 27th May 2015

That is a part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong. F. Scott Fitzgerald

flags in field

Given the recent tragedies in Boston, I thought it would be interesting to better understand the psychology behind patriotism. Obviously, there are many directions one can take such a broad and meaningful topic, however, I want to specifically know why disruption in peace triggers an increased sense of American pride.

Human beings are social animals and have a fundamental need to belong. I use the word need because, yes, we need to be a part of something in order to achieve personal growth. Social psychologists have studied our need to belong for over a century and in 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed what may be the most popular understanding of human motivation; The Hierarchy of Needs. The first set of needs, which must be met, are psychosocial, such as sleep and food. At the top of the pyramid is self actualization - the ultimate form of self. In order to attain such a state, one must meet all of the other levels below.

Hierarchy of Needs

The need to belong is ranked just above psychosocial needs. A sense of belonging is a human need that must be achieved before advancing in personal growth and is fundamental to our nature. In an evolutionary perspective, belonging has helped us survive as a species. We are more successful hunters, more effective in the delegation of communities, and more protected against harm when we are part of a group. Our interests, motivation, health, and happiness are directly connected to the feeling that we belong to a greater community that shares our common interests.

One of the first things we learn as children is how to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. For the first few years, I'm sure many of us didn't even know why; we just did it. However, as we advance in age and education, we become more enlightened about what it actually means to be an American. We learn about our country's history, the Founding Fathers, and current events. This has enabled me to see the American flag in a different light. I see 13 stripes representing the 13 original colonies; the 50 stars acknowledging the 50 states. The colors are of significance as well; white signifies purity and innocence; red - hardness and valor; and blue perseverance and justice.

Immediately following tragedies such as 9/11 and the Boston bombings, I have recognized a heightened sense of patriotism. There is a sense of family amongst people from very different backgrounds. Why? I think there is a level of security that comes from standing together as American citizens. One can say that the most powerful symbol of our unity is expressed through the American flag. It is through unfortunate circumstances that we are able to recognize our weaknesses and flaws. As a result we make the necessary changes to improve; thus advancing not just individual growth but growth as a nation. So patriotism further reinforces Maslow's theory. In order to grow and thrive, we need to feel part of something bigger, and for those fortunate enough, we can call it The United States of America.

By: Ashlee O'Donnell