To Kneel or Stand: The National Anthem

A Brief Summary and Recommendation

Posted Sep 26, 2017

 Ashlee Rezin, Chicago SunTimes
Source: Ashlee Rezin, Chicago SunTimes

At first glance, one may question, Who is right? What is the debate about? Or, how did this transpire? Is this a patriotic issue or a civil rights issue?  If we peel back the onion, there is much more than what meets the eye.  There is deep-seated energy and conviction on both sides.  After attending the Chicago Bears game on Sunday and observing the Pittsburg Steelers (with the exception of one player, a former Army Ranger) stay in the locker room during the National Anthem, I was quickly aware of the apparent issue that was sweeping the NFL and the nation.  As a veteran and a psychologist who treats veterans struggling with experiences that they endured during their military service, my initial reaction was one of defense for the National Anthem, the veteran community, and this country.  However, as I began to reflect more on the larger issue at hand and as I examined the perspective of those who are choosing to kneel during the National Anthem, it also became apparent that those choosing to kneel  have a valid and justified argument as well.  Upon stepping back and taking an objective view of the current National Anthem debate, I can see both sides have valid reasoning for which there is strong conviction and emphasis. 

It is here that I offer a challenge to anyone who reads this article: Take a moment to see it from the other perspective...

“True empathy requires that you step outside your own emotions to view things entirely from the other perspective of the other person.” (psych-quotes.tumblr.com)

 So whichever side of the issue you fall on – take a moment to truly reflect on how someone from the other perspective might have landed there. Question why these individuals may have come to feel strongly about their viewpoint thinking about what life experiences might have contributed to them deciding to kneel or stand.  As it is likely the case with many, the issue is much more symbolic than a simple posturing position. Here is my brief understanding of each side’s viewpoint and the values on which those they based their decision:

Standing during the National Anthem: There are many who feel very strongly about standing during the National Anthem because of what the flag and the Anthem mean to many who fought, sacrificed and died in service to our country.  To individuals who have served and sacrificed, no matter where you are when the National Anthem plays; you stop, pause, and turn towards the flag to pay your respects to what the flag and the National Anthem represent. Often the representation is that of sacrifice, honor, a memorial of a lost friend/battle buddy, freedom, and much more.  One who views standing as an imperative could become defensive if someone chooses not to honor the flag and the National Anthem as they do. 

Kneeling during the National Anthem:  There are many who also feel very strongly about the current racial climate due to feeling oppressed, marginalized, and maltreated in a variety of different contexts and environments.  The players who are choosing to kneel during the National Anthem are doing so to express a fundamental right of freedom.  This stance is an expression of freedom of speech as well as symbolic statement in an attempt to bring awareness and change to what they see as the current climate of racial inequality.  These individuals are not kneeling to be disrespectful, irreverent or unpatriotic; but rather, it seems that their actions are a representation of their desire to move towards social justice and change.

Recommendation:

Pause and take a moment to see it from the other perspective.  This topic presents itself with two sides, each with valid experiences and perspectives as to why they hold their convictions so strongly.  So, regardless of what side you are on, express your beliefs with respect, reverence, and understanding and be open to seeing it from the other vantage point.

Summary: People have served this country so that we, as individuals, are able to have an open debate with opposing views in a public, national, and political forum.  Our country is not perfect, but I believe there are many who work towards being a country where individuals can express their opinions and convictions freely.  Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that people on both sides have fought long and hard for (i.e. civil rights, wars/conflicts abroad…)  Our ability to express ourselves freely, and without persecution, is something that I am proud that I had the opportunity to raise my right hand for and volunteered to serve this great country.  Wherever you may find yourself – on one knee or on two feet – do so respectfully and with intention because that is what makes this country great!  There is room for both behaviors to coexist in one country.  Let’s use it to open a dialogue with each other with the goal of better understanding each other’s perspective to build a better, stronger nation, not a further divided one.

References

Rezin, Ashlee.  (September 24, 2017.) Retrieved from: http://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/steinberg-if-youre-allowed-to-stand-youre-allowed-to-kneel/

No Author. (September 26, 2017). The Definition of Empathy.  Retrieved from: psych-quotes.tumblr.com/