May 19, 2015

The Saddest Thing

It was 5:42 AM and I was standing at the customer service door of the post office, waiting for someone to bring me my baby chicks. Through the door there was a bench against the wall, with a box on the floor next to it. Inside the box was a wadded up American flag.

My mind flashed back to Girl Scouts. Our troop worked together to earn a merit badge on the American Flag. We learned its history and rich symbolism. We learned flag etiquette and protocol. The culmination of the project was a flag burning ceremony, so that we could learn the proper way to discard our nation's flag. It was a solemn ritual which could not help but evoke emotion in each girl's heart.

By the time I got to university, flag burning was an all too common means of protest against the government's policies and politics. When you think about it, really, it's more than just a protest, it's a blatant symbol of disrespect. It sends the message that if one disagrees with someone else, then the appropriate response is to disrespect them.

We live in a day and age when it is stated that respect must be earned. I'm amazed that few folks see the circular reasoning in which this results. Person A requires that Person B earn their respect. Until then, A treats B rudely. Person B requires the same thing - that A earn their respect. But A is treating them disrespectfully, so B reciprocates in kind. In the end, no one ever earns anyone's respect and the result is a society of rude, self-centered, disrespectful folk. I would propose that respect is the proper and logical manner in which to treat all people and all things. It is TRUST which must be earned.

I realize that it takes some amount of self-respect to treat all others respectfully. Instead, popular psychology addresses self-esteem, which appears to build itself on the principle of equality. I had a friend who grew up in California. She said that they did not believe in using the terms "sir" and "ma'am" because were terms that hearkened back to slavery. She said there were other ways to teach respect. I always wondered what that meant because every time she came over her kids got into things they shouldn't, and usually ended up breaking or destroying something.

Contrast that to Coach Ken Carter. (Have you seen the movie? It's based on a real life basketball coach starring Samuel L. Jackson as Coach Carter. Highly recommended). He requires all members of his teams to address not only himself, but one another, as "sir" because, he says, it is a sign of respect, and he requires all his players to respect one another. I would propose that if each person on this planet automatically showed respect for one another, there would be no need for so call self-esteem training. Why? Because respect cannot be taken, it can only be given.

Folks cite many reasons (economics, industrialization, the environment, etc.) as to why our modern way of life is doomed to fail. Others disagree, claiming that science, technology, and our evolving universal consciousness will save us. What's that got to do with a flag? After all, a nation's flag is just a colorful piece of cloth; it is neither holy nor sacred of itself. But as a symbol of that nation and that people, it has value greater than gold. How they treat that symbol is a reflection of what they think of themselves. To see that flag lying neglected and crumpled in that box spoke great symbolic words to me. I could not help but ask, what hope can there be for a nation that does not respect itself?


53 comments:

1st Man said...

Wow. Powerful words. Thank you for this!

Penelope White said...

Did you bring the flag home with you?

Caroline J. Baines said...

So very true and eloquently written. Thank you.

Leigh said...

You're very welcome. :)

Leigh said...

You know, I didn't even think of asking for it. It was behind the counter so I assumed that it is the flag raised daily at the post office (as an official government agency), and that this is how they stored it for the night. In retrospect I should have said something, but when the box of peeping chicks was brought to me, my attention immediately shifted elsewhere.

Leigh said...

Thank you for saying so. :)

Farmer Barb said...

How often the current generation shrugs off the rites of respect. How about eye contact when we converse? How about human contact? How about the basic thread of community--caring for others? The American flag ties us back to the people who came before. Not just family but nation. We are all related because we are Americans. Flags are to be folded and cared for as a part of our duty, like VOTING.

Does the Postal Service have regulations about flag storage? I looked up guidelines and it does not indicate any particular type, just so that it may not be easily soiled or damaged.

Leigh said...

There is already a Flag Code which is law, so no one needs to write their own. But keeping the law is something that has gone out the window with respect, because, really, the bottom line of all law pertains to respecting others and their property. This is the behavior we are to follow to keep society functioning in a safe and fair manner for all citizens. So what's happened? Very good question.

Tomato Thymes said...

Just a thought but perhaps you should give the manager a call and explore this further. It would be interesting to hear what he or she says.

Diana R.Smith said...

As mom to son/DIL who are in the military we fly the flag daily. I also notice flags and am concerned about many mistakes concerning flag etiquette. In fact, at the nursing home where I worked the flag they flew was a ragged disgrace and a slap in the face to our many residents who were veterans. Thankfully, when pointed out our administrator immediately purchased a new flag and the old flag was given to local veterans group who disposed of it properly.

Ed said...

I grew up through the Cub and Boyscouts where learning about and respecting our flag was mandatory. It irks me to see things like that. When I worked in the corporate world, I was forever calling the maintenance department reminding them that today our flag was supposed to be at half staff and then again the next day to tell him that it is no longer at half staff, etc. I also complained once when after a windstorm a week before had shredded it, that it should have been removed and replaced and the old one properly disposed.

I'm part of an organization now that holds and annual flag disposal ceremony in the park and citizens bring their old flags to us. It is a very moving tribute.

Another flag thing that irks me, athletes who drape it around their sweaty shoulders like a cape after an event.

Lady Locust said...

Hmm, what are they teaching school children? Oh yea, it's okay. You don't have to stand up or say the pledge. Many classrooms don't have one. The only time it's are spoken of is how it came to be - Betsy Ross and all. How about we quit lying to our children? Also, how about having consequences for actions? Folks might think twice if there is some sort of disagreeable repercussion. As it is, thoughtlessness is reinforced.

Leigh said...

Diana, that really reflects apathy, which is just as dangerous as disrespect. At least the admin did the right thing when it was brought to their attention.

Leigh said...

Ed, being part of an organization like that is a wonderful thing. What a great way to teach those values to others.

I actually wonder if they teach flag etiquette in the Scouts anymore. The whole casualness of our society toward all things would suggest that no form of respect is being taught. Or else it's being ignored.

Leigh said...

TT, that's a good idea. Thank you.

Leigh said...

Lady Locust you bring up some good points. One is that these values have to be taught. They certainly don't come naturally. The most natural thing is self-centeredness; it's human nature. Regarding and respecting others is what has to be taught.

Secondly, that folks have to be motivated to change. If there are no consequences or repercussions, there is no reason to change.

Good points.

Debby Riddle said...

Speak it out! We cannot forget the sacrifice that goes into our flag. It isn't just a symbol.

Patty@inStitches said...

You are so right! Growing up we were taught respect for our elders, which meant when I was 6 and our after school sitter was 16, she was 'Miss Rosie'. Every adult was Mr, Mrs, Miss, unless they were really close friends or your folks, and then they got the honorary title of 'aunt' or 'uncle'.
The flag was pledged every morning before school, saluted before every meeting, parade, rodeo, sang to - the Star Spangled Banner still brings tears to my eyes - and blessed in prayer everywhere.
Respect was instilled in us by parents who were respectful themselves. Even when they didn't agree about something, they were polite and kind. Mom used to say ' you don't have to agree, but you have to be kind.'

weavinfool said...

I have many thoughts on this, but I'll refrain. I agree that people should be respectful to one another.

Leigh said...

I think those of us who have or have had loved ones in the military understand that best.

Leigh said...

I don't think very many folks how to disagree with respect. I believe that is a skill that must be taught, not caught. Reading Jane Austin and Charles Dickens has always fascinated me because the various characters could carry on polite conversation while not agreeing with one another. Somehow we lost that ability along the way.

Karen@ onthebanksofsaltcreek.com said...

Kudos! I agree. As a Christian, when my kids are confronted with a difficult person and their natural reaction is to disrespect them I ALWAYS tell them that they are to treat them with respect because they are a human, made in the image and likeness of God.

Disrespecting our flag is throwing our nation under the bus. Our flag represents our freedom. If we were to be invaded and lose that fight our flag would be replace with the winning nation's flag. Our flag flying freely is a symbol that what we stand for still exists.

I was one of two girls in grade school in charge of the flag. If it started to rain we left class, lowered it, folded it, and put it away. We were taught to respect it.

This country is suffering for MANY reasons and one of them is being too self centered. If we all cared more about how we treat others than how we are being treated a lot of things would improve. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Leigh said...

I think respect is the absolute bottom line.

Fiona said...

Have you noticed how many flags get put up and left? Hanging there until they are 1/2 their proper size so much has tattered off from wind and exposure? Ralph and I sigh every time we pay our bill at the power company...we have mentioned their flag looks worn out and they always say they have a new one ordered. Its like hang it and forget it! Respect in such a basic form...this post is such a perfect example of how the loss of respect for, and pride in what this country is has been relegated to tatters!

DFW said...

Very well said Leigh. I think a lot of our downfall is that parents don't teach theri children the power of our freedom & what it all represents. Probably because they don't know themselvs.

Jacquelineand.... said...

I don't think we lost the ability to respect one another; I think we tossed it away with both hands - along with courtesy, duty, niceness perseverance. These have become, if not 'dirty' words, laughable... even bathetic... in our society, and yet, they are both the glue which holds people and societies together; they are, as well, the social 'lubricant' which reduces the frictions between people.

Leigh said...

Self-centeredness leads to all manner of social ills; everything from rudeness to entitlement. It's so easy to personalize something that someone else says or does, and that only leads to further misunderstanding. Seems if we don't learn it as children, adults don't catch on.

Leigh said...

Fiona, I've thought about that very thing. After 9-11 people were so proud to fly the American flag. Now they don't seem to care any more.

Leigh said...

I think parents rely too much on the schools to teach their children everything. But school teachers have their hands full, so it's a wonder much gets taught (or caught) at all.

Leigh said...

I have to agree. Somewhere along the line common courtesy was abandoned. Rudeness is now the norm! No wonder so many folks are in a grump all the time.

Ngo Family Farm said...

My dad is a veteran, and I grew up seeing him treat our flag with such reverence. I definitely think there are people who treat the flag with disrespect, but I also think a lot of younger people just don't know the etiquette and aren't doing it maliciously (maybe ones who don't have a direct military connection or don't truly know the impact of war or immediate threats to freedom?) But it is very sad that these things apparently aren't important enough to be part of our national consciousness. I remember during the latter part of my schooling years, the "in God we trust" part of the pledge being debated because some found it offensive...how quick (and foolish) we often are to throw away history/tradition/wisdom.
-Jaime

Lynda D said...

There was a time when the only time you saw a flag was up a flag pole but today it is made into undies, bikinis, loo paper, pencils, car mirror covers, oh way too many to mention. I think like most things that because it has been tainted with the commercial brush it has lost it meaning and therefore respect. Certainly this generation is vastly different. You try and install your values but all i hear is "its not 1960 Mum". I especially hate how the young no longer respect someone who is older. Now they want a list of achievements provided before they will consider it. It was given freely when i was growing up. Any backchat was immediately met with "respect your elders". So yes, i totally agree with your sentiments. Where will we be in 20 years when they are the leaders.

Chris said...

This was a challenge for me to comment on, because I understand the patriotism. I was raised that way for forty years myself, until I learned my Great-grandmother was Aboriginal. Then I suddenly had to learn, what it was like after your cultural identity was torn down, and rebuilt in the very image of the Nation I was taught to be patriotic about.

It's extremely difficult to get information now, about my indigenous cultural heritage, because there was a period in Australian history, which sort to break the bonds of the Aboriginal nation. It was even called the White Australia policy. After they took their land, their sacred sites, and their right to hunt food as they traditionally have for centuries, they finally came for their children.

The white Australia policy removed children from indigenous homes and communities, and put them in relgious institutions, where they were habitually abused. By removing their children, they broke the generational passing of information thorugh stories, ceremonies and culture. A lot about their culture has been lost, even though there are efforts now to record the knowledge of the elders which remain.

Raise the Australian flag, sing the National anthem and swear allegiance to the Queen. These were all the symbols of oppression, taught to me as the very symbols of my freedom. Its extremely difficult to lie to yourself about that fact, when the blood of two nations flows through your veins.

The truth about my Nation's origins, and probably yours too, is we did not start with an agency of respect for others. We took what we could take (thou shalt not steal) and waged war to take even more (thou shalt not covert thy neighbours possessions).

That doesn't mean I support defacing flags as retribution, or promoting the hatred of our Nations. Those actions don't bear good fruit either. An eye for an eye, like person A and person B, will most likely go blind between them. This was your point and I heartily agree.

I think we need to be weary of symbols though. God says not to bow down or make any idol, separate to him. If a person is regarded according to their "symbols" and how they "show" them, well as an indigenous person, that's how good old fashioned Colonial oppression worked. Like your skin has to be white, in order to be pure. That you cannot be homeless infront of other people's homes, because that's just disrespectful of their privacy.

This is not what you are saying at all. These are just the conversations which come out of a sense of former entitlement, and I've read them in other places. I know you're not about any of that, which is why it was a challenge to write my comments here. I happily believed for 40 years that Australia was a good and healthy democracy, until I learned of the people who were never given representation before they were destroyed.

So that flag in the box (symbolic Australian flag for me) looks fitting for a nation (Australia) that would otherwise cast out segments of its own society. I don't wish it, nor advocate for our flags to be treated in such a way, but I can understand when you put such a weight on society as our flag has caused its citizens to bear, that it starts to come apart at the seams.

I took something important from your post however, as it has reminded me I have two flags to identify with - the Australian flag and the Aboriginal flag. I don't hang either on Australia Day (equivalent to US, Independence Day) but I should. Not because it represents anything particular to others, but because it represents something to me. Which I think was the gist of your post.

I hope you understand, I don't mean any of my comments as opposition, rather its just a different perspective to add to the conversation.

Harry Flashman said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts. Sometimes I feel completely disconnected from our society today because it's values seem to have changed while mine have not.

Susan said...

Lack of respect is a very insidious thing. It starts with our flag and then infects our interactions with each other and ultimately affects ourselves. Our flag is such an important symbol - do they even teach the subject in schools now?

Iowabovine said...

wow. i would be upset also. what did you do to remedy this situation? I'm sure your actions or ensuing conversation brought some respect to the flag and no doubt made this a teachable moment for those sans respect.

Sue in MA said...

Leigh, as I tried to convey yesterday on your FB page, what you saw may be what I encountered two weeks ago. That is, a flag being collected at the P.O. for proper disposal, I called my P.O. Today and was told that the local American Legion post is collecting them in advance of Flag Day, when they will hold their annual ceremony for the flag disposal. The postmaster said this has been a common occurrence at other post offices where he has worked. Hope this was the case at your local one. Sue in MA.

Leigh said...

A lot of folks would call it progress, especially with the push toward globalism. Still, other nations and peoples take pride in their country and heritage. I think it would be sad to lose that because we are such a richly diverse nation.

Leigh said...

Lynda that is so true. I guess the real question is - are we better off for it? Honestly, I can't see how if we cannot respect others.

Florida Farm Girl said...

Wise and insightful words, dear girl. Now, how do we spread the word?

Leigh said...

Chris, I saw the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence so I know exactly what you are describing. We have a similar issue in the US, because of slavery and the forced evacuation of Native Americans. These things continue to cause division to this day.

The gist of my post wasn't so much about symbolism as it was about respect / disrespect. I would like to think that if disrespect causes so many horrendous problems, then respect ought to cure them. I admit that's too idealistic to be a reality, and in fact, it does not, because healing requires both true repentance and true forgiveness. If either is withheld, division continues.

No nation lasts forever. It is formed, grows, rises, peaks, weakens, and eventually is no more. My country is divided over so many things: politics, religion, race, gender, economics, etc., with everyone pointing the finger at everyone else. Most people think the collapse will be from an economic, political, or industrial crisis, maybe even from terrorist attack. The sad truth is that it is the inner decay which will make that possible.

I think you should hang both flags for any occasion that would benefit from them. You have a richer past than most and that is something to be proud of.

Leigh said...

Harry, Dan and I feel the same way. And I think our neighbors and acquaintances think we are too!

Leigh said...

Susan, I'm guessing they don't teach it much in schools these days.. I'm guessing that globalism and multiculturalism have pretty much taken it's stead.

Leigh said...

Iowabovine, when they brought my box of chicks my concern turned to whether or not they all made the trip safely and checking to do a live head count. Sounds pretty shameful on my part, doesn't it!

Leigh said...

Sue, good to hear from you! Thank you for your comment. I thought I lost you when I turned off anonymous comments (which really worked out well because I no longer get spam comments). With Memorial Day coming up that may be the case here too. i should check and see.

Iowabovine said...

I think it important to not just complain about things like this, but to make the effort (as you did Sue in MA) to question what is going on. This might very well be a totally innocent situation, but extremely negative conclusions were drawn since the facts were not sought after!

Leigh said...

Thank you! I suppose blogging is my way of doing just that. :)

Florida Farm Girl said...

I'm back just to say that I'm so grateful for this discussion and the insight that it provides. Above all, its the respectful and civil discussion that it has evoked. I truly appreciate Chris's (from Australia) viewpoint and comments. Makes one think.

Chris said...

Yes, that is sadly true about the inner decay. It also aligns with what Jesus said about the enemy coming from your own house.

I came across a great saying recently though - "in the end, all that matters in life, is kindness". Whether its towards people or flags, showing kindness can make all the difference.

I guess respect, can be summed up as showing kindness.

I've enjoyed this discussion. :)

Crg said...

Thank you for your post and thought provoking messages. Along the lines of respect, I tend to think similar, although maybe not as strong feeling toward the symbolism of the flag. Unfortunately, we live in a day and age when such a symbol has been bastardized by military industrial complex running rampant, much like the Nazis did to the sacred symbol the swaztica was derived from. None the less, it is good to hear folks thinking of peace, compassion, love, and similar concepts to respect. From personal experience, I thought instantly of a very simple concept which would alter perceptions almost instantly... if you have to choose how to treat someone and are in doubt of how to act, choose kindness always.. (https://youtu.be/6-of3FSTf1Y). I also strongly agree with the Native Americans; "I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow men." The Chippewa Thanks for posting such perspectives changers, thrilled to see others thinking so clearly.

Crg said...

Loved this read, thanks both for sharing the perspectives. I too agree with the underlying strength of kindness. The linked video supports such kindness driven existence :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-of3FSTf1Y

Leigh said...

Chris, I think kindness sums it up perfectly. I like it because it is an action word. I think too many folks assume that the concepts of things like love and forgiveness are based on emotion. It seems impossible to do them if one doesn't feel like it. Actually, the biblical meanings have nothing to do with action and everything to do with a choice of will. 1 Corinthians 13 clearly speaks of that. Loving others is not based on feeling, but on action, i.e. choosing to be patient, choosing to be kind. I think there are many misunderstandings about forgiveness too. Forgiveness is not giving someone permission to hurt us. It's not saying it was okay that they did so. I believe the Bible teaches that forgiveness is releasing another from accountability for offending (I Cor 13:5 and Psalm 37:8). It's ceasing to punish them. The relationship may still be damaged, but for the person offended, there is release and peace.

I think kindness is always appropriate. I know many of my own offenses and mistakes are often not deliberate or intentional, but I make them anyway. In such cases I can only hope the other will be kind to me for my failures. I can't demand that, but the least I can do is try to extend it to others.

Leigh said...

Crg, thank you for adding to the conversation! It has been very interesting and I hope encouraging to others. It is very true that symbols don't mean the same to everyone and that they can be changed by groups of folks. In the end it is as you say, it is our behavior that says more about us than our intentions or objects.