By Kristen Seeber
Women’s Fund of Smith County
Our boys loved “The Patriot,” a film starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. They were captivated by the stirring battle scenes and the journey Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, makes from pacifist to patriot. To this day, their favorite line in the movie is spoken by Martin to his sons before the action begins against a group of British soldiers in the woods, “Aim small, miss small.”
There are critics of the film who question whether it is a positive portrayal of a true patriot. What motivates Martin’s resolve to pick up his weapons and drive-out the British is more personal than it is a sense of love for country. Only when his primary loyalty to family and home is threatened does he join the fight. Some would argue that real patriotism calls people to action because they value duty to the public good above self-interest.
What really is love of country? When we think about what we most want to protect – the places that mean the most to us and the people for whom we would put ourselves at risk to guard and save – of course, it’s our own homes, our neighborhoods, our families and the friends we hold most dear. “The closer our physical ties to a person or place, the stronger are our ethical responsibilities for the well-being of that person or place,” observes Thomas Fleming in his book “The Politics of Human Nature.” Certainly, this view does not mean we do not have an obligation to think beyond our own close circles and communities. Perhaps it does mean, though, that often charity begins at home.
Patriotism may be described as an emotion. Like most of you, I am intensely moved when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played. I stand and sing along with pride – pride for our country and the force for good it has been throughout history. I wish, though, I was better about keeping those strong feelings with me after the anthem ends. Patriotism is not something I give voice to on a daily basis.
However, we may be more patriotic than we realize. The American patriotic creed comprises an attachment to principles that are universal – displaying devotion and loyalty to the values of our democracy. We respond to the welfare of others because we understand how blessed by freedom and good fortune we are. Reaching out to embrace others in their time of need demonstrates affection towards the public good. To describe that action in one word: philanthropy.
Philanthropy permeates American life. It is what we choose to do – voluntarily – to improve the quality of life for others, and that motivation comes from a sense of patriotism. Our attachment is to our nation, yes; to our community, absolutely; but ultimately it is to the universal ideal of freedom and to the blessings that accompany it. The common good is achieved when we work together with others for the greater benefit of all.
So, as the fireworks explode and the flag is raised, we recognize that the land of the free and the home of the brave is all around us. Whether the need is near or far, patriotism inspires us to defend and to protect. Each of us can be a patriot, then, called to action, called to give. Patriotism is not always grandiose and large in scale. Watch and see how focused gestures – right here where we live – can hit the mark and make a lasting difference. “Aim small, miss small.”
Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a philanthropic organization which provides high-impact grants that bring positive change to the lives of women and children in our community. Visit www.womensfundsc.org for information about our mission, membership opportunities, and to apply for a grant. Applications for 2018 Women’s Fund Grants are due by Friday, July 14.