Flying the Flag

Flying the Flag

A flying lesson

We needed a new flag to fly out front of the house.

The old one tattered into smithereens in the wind last fall, so we’ve had a naked house for a while. And as we considered what to display – kind of the equivalent of a lapel pin, when you think about it, accessorizing the old homestead – I got to wondering what the point of a flag is anyway.

By comparison, think of a lawn sign bearing the name of your favorite political candidate, or a bumper sticker with the logo of a band you love. Have you ever voted for someone because you read a lawn sign? No. They’re marks of affiliation rather than persuasion – a way of telling the world who you are and what you’re about.

We thought about putting up your standard stars and stripes. Can’t go wrong with that, can you? And Independence Day is coming up. Except that I see in my mind’s eye the rabid Trump fans waving their giant American flags up on Niagara Falls Boulevard, trying to convince the passing traffic of something I know not what. You can’t fault their patriotism, although love of country is not equivalent to love of a charismatic leader. But for this moment in our shared political life, it seems like the flag itself has been coopted in a way I’m not comfortable flying. And I regret that.

A UB School of Law professor I know once wrote a book called What Are Campaigns For? He concluded that political campaigns are not about changing anyone’s mind. Instead, he argued, they’re emotional and tribal, designed to raise the energy level among a candidate’s voter base and get people’s butts to the polls on Election Day.

And as we looked at the endless possibilities for flags, I thought about that. There were Planet Earth flags and Pride flags and flags promoting religious tolerance; there were seasonal flags (Welcome, Spring!), state flags, flags of other countries, American flags with a blue stripe in support of the police.

No one is going to change his mind about anything after seeing our flag from the sidewalk. But it might be possible to move the needle of civility the tiniest fraction if more people exerted a little peer pressure in a positive direction.

“My religion is very simple,” the Dalai Lama once said. “My religion is kindness.”

Can’t hurt to see that from the sidewalk. Can’t hurt to see it from the front porch – that is, to remind myself of this basic stance toward others, remind myself that we’re all God’s beloved children, to whack myself upside the head once again with this version of the Golden Rule.

So here’s our new flag. Maybe it will change the world. If not, maybe it will change me.

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