Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Our flag: A hidden dimension that unites

In just a few days, there is going to be a customary and orderly change of guard at the highest echelons of power not just for the United States but for all practical purposes the entire world. It may be seen as seismic and generational for some or it may be just another day at the office for others. Furthermore, it also offers renewed hope and optimism for many others. No matter where we are on the spectrum, our flag is the common ground on which we can come together. A flag has the power to make all eyes converge on one point. It is a symbol of unity that can be seen from all four directions. Nothing need be said and without outer prompting, patriotic fervor can easily well up in its presence. If we understand the higher dimension that a flag of a nation represents, it goes from being only a symbol of a country to something greater. It can become an active tool for change, guiding us on singular purpose of bringing about peace and prosperity not just in our respective countries but also the world at large. Peace may be compared to one’s right hand and prosperity to one’s left hand. When both hands meet in the middle it is a prayerful symbol. When peace and prosperity go hand in hand, it fulfills a deep seated desire in everyone’s mind regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion etc.

The history of flags is lost in antiquity, each a unique symbol that is held up high for all to see. For a country, it is a visual representation of patriotism and identity. For a sporting movement such as the Olympics, the five interlocking rings of its flag represents the coming together of the world in the spirit of fairness and sportsmanship. The olive branches on the flag of the United Nations are a universal symbol of peace. For every country, there is a history behind the origins of their respective national flags. In each country, even if individual opinions differ it is not uncommon for citizens to uniformly honor their country’s flag by adopting certain etiquettes when it comes to its display. One one hand, it is a simple patterned fabric and on the other hand, it has the power to unite and evoke deep passionate sentiments about one’s national identity and place in the world. Flags are powerful symbols of freedom in a democracy and serve as a beacon for people to come together.

Symbols don’t convey just one meaning. There are many layers to them, depending on how we interpret them. The deeper we go within ourselves the greater is the meaning we can derive, even though the outer manifestation remains the same. For example, a mother’s love for her child comes from her innermost core. It is one of the, if not the purest emotion shown by humans. Whether in the privacy of a home or in a public place like a park, that connection between a mother and a child is never lost even in the midst of thousands of people. The mutual recognition that love brings with it remains as strong as ever due to the depth it reaches in both the mother’s as well as the child’s heart. A passing stranger may never notice that connection. To a true patriot, a similar connection exists with the flag of his or her nation. The word patriot usually refers to anyone who shares feelings of love and respect for one’s country, and it is not contingent on whether they are native born or naturalized citizens. There isn’t such a thing as a native or a naturalized patriot.

While citizenship confers external identification with a particular nation, patriotism is internal identification. One may not carry documentation of citizenship at all times, but patriotism goes with us wherever we go. That feeling is in our hearts and it suffuses throughout the body almost as if carried through the bloodstream. Externally we may differ but inside, every human’s life is dependent on the constant slow moving flow of 8 pints of blood day and night. One’s blood gives life not just to that individual but it may also be given as a life saving gift to someone else in need. Similarly, every nation’s prosperity depends on the patriotism of its citizens which is a country’s lifeblood. It is a gift that we have received from our founding fathers and we in turn pass it on to generations to come through our thoughts. The national flag links the founding fathers of every nation to the present generation. It is the most important “document” of a nation, just as important as a passport is to an individual while traveling abroad.

Outside the United Nations building in New York is a mélange of colorful flags of every country that’s a member of the UN. All the flags are of the same size and the flag posts are of the same height implying all citizens of the world are equal. The world would be a better place if the aggregate of human thought is similarly uniform and lofty. The landmass of the world is like one big cloth cut into pieces of varying sizes and shapes based on historical events which are in our collective memory. Many of the countries of the world were not in existence prior World War II.  The lines that are drawn currently cannot be easily changed without suffering some of the catastrophic damage that the two major wars brought. It is easy to forget that there was a time when evolution had not yet blue printed human existence. That sobering thought helps put things into perspective when fights break out over shifting lines drawn on sand.  

Patriotism and citizenship are the two legs of any solid political leadership. Leadership in turn is what is done for the betterment of the country and its people by uplifting and uniting people. Leaders in every field share one common trait, which is bringing people together for a common good. In the field of sports, leaders have the capability of uniting the hearts of millions thereby raising hopes and joy. Sporting events such as the Olympics can spur intense feelings of pride in one’s country and its achievements. It is a moment to display the fruits of the hard work of all its citizens as everyone contributes daily to the success of the country directly or indirectly. In the field of law, true leadership unselfishly unites people with the concept of equal justice for all. In the field of technology, pioneers such as Steve Jobs brought us together with a beautifully crafted handheld device. In the field of science, groundbreaking discoveries and inventions indirectly unite people when they are of benefit not just to a few but the wide masses.  

The flag of the United States of America, represents not just the aspirations of millions of patriotic Americans, but also that of many people from other countries. As the leader of the free world and the engine of the world’s economy, the American flag is the most recognizable symbol of power and freedom in the world. The United States has immigrants from virtually every country in the world, no other country in the world can match that diversity of immigrants. The stars reflect not just the states but also their shared ambitions for prosperity. No matter how big or small a state each gets a star of the same size on the flag. The strips may be thought to be representative of our country’s diversity, they are uniformly sized indicating all humans are equal despite their superficial differences. A symbol may not change for centuries but it can always be seen in the modern context as well as it’s original intent. A contemporary flavor does not change history, it helps complement it.

It is hard for any country to be successful in the long haul when it exists in a purely homogenous state. Even if a country is ethnically homogenous, it is the variance amongst individual ideas and the cross pollination of diverse minds that results in growth. Differing opinions are the driver of change and improvement as they create the stage for discussion and inclusion of all voices. Hence free speech is such a treasured democratic value. Cells of one’s own body have tremendous diversity. Although we have all started off as one single organisms, without different organs and vastly varying cellular functions there can not be human life. Bodily cells that breakdown food and create waste matter are no less important or helpful to overall health than highly specialized brain cells that are involved in advanced cognitive function.

Both the right and left arm, literally (politically) and figuratively have to work together for the success of a country. The right hand crosses over to the left in order to place it on one’s heart when conveying one’s love for the nation, a common symbolic gesture when the national anthem is played. By convention when saluting, the tips of the fingers of the right hand point to the brain. No matter where the hand points, to the right or the left, the importance of the heart and the brain cannot be diminished. The heart of a country is its people and the brain is also is its people. Only by touching the lives of people in a positive manner do the leaders truly reach a country’s heart and brain. The brain has little use if there is no body to command and the heart is similarly rendered vestigial without blood to pump. The movement of people as in the labor force represents the heart of the nation, its values and laws represent the brain. Without an active, engaged and productive workforce no amount of thinking and talking amongst the leaders will result in an upward tick of the GDP. Growth must be inclusive of everyone just as all the stars on our flag are included within its boundaries. Only then can we as a nation say that the flag represents every citizen.

The colors of the Stars and Stripes don’t have a historically ascribed meaning, but the same colors found on the Great Seal of the United States have a specific meaning. Charles Thomson (1729-1824), the principal designer of the Great Seal of the United States suggested the symbolism of the three colors in the Great Seal. According to him, white stood for purity and innocence, red signified hardiness and valor and blue reflected vigilance, perseverance and justice. These are relevant today just as they were on June 20, 1782 when the Great Seal was adopted. The concept of “red states” and “blue states” however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the 2000 presidential election, television networks that displayed color coded maps to indicate voting results for Republicans or Democrats were not consistently red and blue respectively. After the 2000 presidential election, red for Republicans and blue for Democrats has become a permanent part of the electoral discourse. But the values these colors represent don’t belong to any one party. They are universal. Unfortunately those colors have also come to symbolize the political divide that is raging today. Opinions from “red” and “blue” states may differ, but those colors are integral to our flag and are linked together by the color white which symbolizes purity and innocence. No matter which state is “red” or “blue”, the country always has and will be run from the White House. We can never be divided if we base  our core values on the bed of purity and innocence that the color white represents.

The thirteen stripes on our flag commemorate the original colonies that declared independence from England. The number 1 in 13 can be thought to signify the individual and the number 3 can be thought to represent the triumvirate of one’s thoughts, actions and the destination those actions take us to. If in every individual, these three are aligned and in a positive direction, the flag of any country can fly high without fear. International policing of nations will become less and less needed if transformation sprouts from within each individual. This idea may seem utopian but the values our flag represent will also be that if we don’t honor them in our daily lives. If a piece of cloth commands such respect and evoke great emotions, what to speak of a human life, the worth of which is incalculable? Our thoughts, actions and conduct although carried out individually, at a subtle level they are representative of the collective human consciousness. The world changes according to how we change. If positive and noble qualities become our true colors and we consistently display those colors, that pattern becomes the “flag” of our individual self. When nothing external can change or shape that, it becomes as beautiful and indivisible as nature’s flag, the big blue sky. Rockets piercing the sky and leaving for outer space cannot leave a hole in it. Similarly ideas that emanate from deep within that touch the world in a beneficial manner can never leave us full of empty holes wanting to be filled. Completeness is our fundamental nature, peace and prosperity are its byproducts.