When I first left home and lived in England, I had a circle of English friends who stated that they weren’t patriotic and that nationalism was a bad thing. I was initially surprised at this as I’ve always been a patriotic Welshman and regard it as a positive thing. As with any political, religious or cultural creed, patriotism has both positive and negative elements to it. Like anything else, Patriotism, it is about striking a balance, learning how to make use of the good elements and dismissing the bad elements. It is an interesting concept, because whilst every culture is different, there are many common threads to patriotism. Again, like anything else, people should be wary of allowing positive elements of any creed to lead uncritically to bad elements.There have been a few recent events that illustrate my views on patriotism:
The Rugby World Cup
In Wales, rugby is our national sport, and supporting rugby is part of our culture. The established patriotic position is of the ‘local rival’ type, The Welsh patriot supports two teams; Wales and whoever is playing England. This is similar to the New Zealander who supports the All Blacks and whoever plays the Wallabies (Australia). People from countries, such as England, often don’t quite get this as their patriotism is different. I think it’s a positive outward looking stance. It means that at certain times support is lent to the team of any country in the world, enabling increased cultural understanding and new relationships.
The critic may say, that it’s not very nice for the English to be hated. The English are not hated though, the English are our friends and neighbours, there is simply a healthy rivalry with them. It’s the same thing in football, I’m a Manchester City supporter and ‘hate’ Manchester United, nonetheless I have many friends who support Man United,Ii think they are a little ‘misguided’ (have a slightly different set of priorities in how there support manifests itself, but it is essentially the same thing).
There are mild irritations that are experienced by Welsh supporters. The British media extensively covers the performances of the English teams, any win seems to be reported as the ‘greatest victory’ and any loss, the ‘greatest crisis’, it is difficult to ignore all this, when it is something you have no interest in. Though, generally the Welsh quite understand why UK wide media would cover it as England has a population of over 50 million, compared to the 3.5 million of Wales.Having said that it is a healthy thing to have a set of media opinion that you ignore, as having a healthy disrespect for the bias opinions of the media, of people with different. opinions. It encourages one to work things out for yourself.
Perhaps the difference is expectation, England expect to win. I don’t have this, in Wales, we don’t expect to win, so any victory is all the more sweeter, the case in point being Wales’ recent victory over England in the Rugby World Cup! It’s the same with supporting Man City, I still don’t expect the team to win, even now we are a successful top of the league outfit, this generally isn’t the case with supported of Liverpool or Man United.
The problem with expectation of winning it that it implies superiority, which is a bad thing. The easiest bad trap to fall into with patriotism is superiority, the idea that your country is the best, has the best culture and way of doing things. Perhaps the Welsh can be patriotic, much more easily than the English, because as such a small country, on the Western periphery of Europe with a hilly terrain, the Welsh are not concerned with ‘being the best’, rather being the best we can be.
I am a proud Welshman, it is my favourite country in the world, it is the best for me personally. I love Wales, not for any specific attribute, but simply as it is home, it is my culture and I understand it better than any other. Good patriotism is very akin to family, it roots us and gives us confidence in belonging to something before we discover who we. Much like families there are aspects we love and aspects we hate, but it is an inescapable part of us, a relationships we don’t choose. As an outsider, i have become aware of many distinct ways i am different to others or the ‘mainstream’, but country, like family grants an automatic membership of a group. It some ways, this sense of being an outsider when the British media carp on about England, is something the Welsh have in common and being an outsider is part of the nationality, a nonconformity, which is useful. It is I believe important to belong, to know you are not crazy, yet able to be yourself and confident not to be in the mainstream.
I am always fascinated by people who come to live and work in Wales. Some people fall in love with Wales, some merely find it interesting and some realise they dislike the place. Everybody is different and value different aspects of life. No-one should take offense that their country or themselves as an individual is disliked, but they should take comfort when they encounter people who love them.
The other thing that is a mild annoyance with England national teams is the anthem. England don’t sing an English national anthem, they borrow the British anthem ‘God Save the Queen/King’. Generally, when the British national anthem is played, I stand up and sing along. However I am silent when it is played for the English national team, because whilst I respect them I don’t support them. so, there are occasions when I sing and when I don’t.
Cultures are perhaps differentiated by how the concept of freedom is defined. It is interesting that people of political creeds say the same thing: “I am a socialist/liberal/conservative because I believe in freedom”. Almost everyone believes in freedom, indeed this is often expressed in the words of national anthems. True freedom is I believe impossible for human beings as social animals, there is always a balance of ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’. A balance of different elements is sought to maximise individual freedom and each political creed goes about it in a slightly different way.
Sections of the British right wing media went into a frenzy when Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour party leader, didn’t sing the British national anthem at his first official engagement as party leader, because he is a republican. In Britain is a widely held view that everyone is free to choose whether or not to sing the national anthem or indeed behave in a patriotic way. Much of the media didn’t respect Corbyn’s choice not to sing as an example of this freedom. It is sad that this man felt obliged to change his stance and sing the national anthem simply because of his status as a national leader and an appeal to mainstream electorate. This doesn’t send a message about the freedom the British value to the world does it?