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Linda & Richard Eyre: Helping kids separate patriotism from nationalism

Published: Thursday, July 4 2013 7:56 p.m. MDT

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On this Independence Day, as we try to help our children appreciate our independence and freedom and to respect the country that gives us both, let’s be careful not to step over the line from good and positive patriotism to negative and prejudicial nationalism.

It’s wonderful for kids to love America and be thankful for all the blessings that our Constitution and our freedoms allow us. But it is not wonderful for them to think of themselves or of Americans as being superior to other people from other places.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we know and feel so deeply that all mankind are literal spirit children of our heavenly parents and that God loves all of his children equally. How foolish we are then if we think — or convey to our children — that because we live in America, we are better or more important to God than any of his other children anywhere else.

If we try conscientiously and deliberately, we can focus on humble gratitude for our blessings and freedoms, which is just the opposite of feeling proud that we have so much more and thus are somehow more special than those who have less or live in less-favored lands.

Children who are raised to know that their brothers and sisters throughout the world are every bit as important and as divinely loved as they are will never develop prejudice or an attitude of entitled superiority.

True patriotism causes us to rejoice in the miracle of America and the extraordinary wisdom and intelligence of the Founding Fathers and the efficacy and brilliance of the documents they crafted.

Nationalism, on the other hand, generates division and enmity and starts wars between nations. Yet it is often masked as patriotism. Hitler rallied the German people into a frenzy of perceived superiority that he called patriotism. His “fatherland” was to dominate the Earth and eliminate or subjugate races they considered to be inferior so that the pure Aryan people could take their rightful place atop humanity.

Nationalism is a misplaced type of honoring country where citizens proudly elevate themselves and their nation by imagining that they are better than other people in other places. There is no room for that kind of comparative thinking in true patriotism, which humbly and gratefully sees our national blessings as a responsibility and an obligation to care about and reach out to others who may have less freedom and less prosperity.

How important it is to exemplify and teach this attitude of true patriotism to our children.

The same distinction should guide how we teach our children to love and value their religion. Instead of lifting our faith up by putting other faiths down, we should help our kids feel grateful for all we have and all we believe at the same time as they respect and appreciate others with different beliefs and faith. Always, we should look for common ground and respect for other people and places.

Happy Fourth of July from our family to yours! We are indeed blessed to live in this extraordinary land and within this remarkable restored church. We revere both our patriots and our prophets. And we pray this day that our children can feel the joy of our heritage and our culture in a way that is filled with genuine gratitude and that is absolutely void of pride.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."

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