As a result of some tensions on Australia Day, some individuals on the day received media attention by burning the Australian flag. This was seen by many as highly disrespectful. Others saw it as practically sacrilege based on their reactions.
To be honest? People need to step back and consider what the flag is.
The flag is a symbol, and we sometimes forget that any symbol which can be used to make a positive statement can also be used to make a negative statement. Or, to be more specific – a symbol exists to be used, and only a very foolish person assumes that it should only be used in one way.
Humans are complex creatures – we can build the most amazingly abstract notions from the most simple forms. Flags are a classic representation of this: a bit of material, or plastic, with assorted colours and patterns on it suddenly when layed out in the correct fashion represents a country. Only the most dictatorial of states however institute policies that prohibit questioning the country, and Australia is not one of those states. As such, we shouldn’t be afraid of someone burning a flag.
It’s also very foolish to assert that a patriot can’t question the behaviour of his or her country. Indeed, as I’ve argued in the past, a patriot is someone who doesn’t look at the country and extemporise about all that they perceive as good, blinded to or ignoring everything else, but instead is someone who is prepared to say, “There are some things we could do better”.
Complacency is a dangerous tool of conservatives, regardless of whether it is in politics, or religion, or any other area. Human history is, if nothing else, an abject demonstration that complacency is a terrible thing – that we must always be looking to move forward. Our entire history as a species has been marked with the painful lessons of ideologues preaching stagnation – of continuing to do things a particular way because that’s how they’ve always been done. But it’s also been marked by those amazing moments where collectively or even as individuals, we’ve made great strides forward – by refusing to accept complacency.
Some might argue that burning a flag is a terrible statement against a nation – and maybe it is; but maybe it also serves collectively to give us a kick in the pants. To tell us that there’s things we could be doing better. Maybe not to the extent that the people who are burning the flags are saying, but still, as an abject demonstration that there are patriots asking for a rethink of the status quo. They’re feeling pain, and they’re wanting to demonstrate that.
“Perhaps, what we need is a good kick in our complacency for what lies ahead.”
(Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Q Who?”)
Don’t get angry at people burning flags – listen to their message. You may not agree with it; they may not even be right – but it may point to a discussion that needs to be had, and a new tangent that needs to be taken.