Patriotism, Nationalism and Love of Mankind


Patriotism is the love of the larger social unit, especially to one that has nurtured us and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The English word “patriot” comes from the Greek patris or fatherland. This larger unit is usually a nation, but it can be a region, a city, a tribe, a clan or even a family. We are willing to work for its betterment, to protect it, to volunteer for it or to do what we can to make it a more stable, just, organized and happy society.

Nationalism is quite different from patriotism. Nationalism has an element of separation from other nations. It is my nation as against other nations. In this sense, nationalism is divisive, and has been the cause of conflicts and wars for thousands of years. This of course is the result of social development in various periods of history. In the early periods the rules that govern human and social life are determined by a ruler who has the power to impose edicts or desires. There is insecurity and thus people need the protection by such powers against other powers. This leads to mutual fear and distrust, including the setting of physical boundaries between these groups, and a feeling of you versus us. These tribal feelings are but the precursor to national attitudes towards neighbors who are perceived as threats.

Muslims and Hindus have lived with each other in western India more or less peacefully for many centuries. Then in 1947, during the independence of India from the British, they decided to draw a boundary between themselves, leading to the deaths of thousands of people who were trying to cross such an invisible border which never existed before. Now India and Pakistan, people of the same nationality prior to 1947, became enemies and have engaged in intermittent wars and battles for the past half a century, both even developing nuclear weapons to “defend” themselves, as if anyone is going to win in a nuclear war. No wonder Albert Einstein wrote: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Within each country, we have provinces or states that have no restrictive borders. We don’t usually become “provincialistic” by asserting our loyalty to our province over or against other provinces. It is easy for us to become residents of other provinces or states. We will see that even if there are provincial or state boundaries, they do not become serious sources of animosity or hostility.

In the future, the world will have just one global government and the present nations will be like “global provinces” where we are free to cross boundaries and change residences. A semblance of such “international provinces” is happening to the European Union today, although nationalistic feelings are still strong due to historical and linguistic reasons. It is hoped that in future decades (or centuries?) it will be difficult to distinguish between a German, a French or a Czech as they are all Europeans. Thus national identities will blur, and former ethnic distrust and animosity will fade away.

National boundaries are inventions of the mind due to insecurity or greed. With modern communications, ease of travel, or globalized economies, we can no longer think of any country as an isolated island. We are one human family and can no longer make decisions based on purely nationalistic interests. The earth has become too small for distrust and bickering. Nations have absolutely become interdependent. The preservation of the Amazon forests is a global concern. The pollution of China or America will not just harm Chinese or Americans but may melt Antarctic ice shelves that can cause the rise of the sea level and submerge vast areas of Bangladesh. The Nile River as a water source is shared by at least four countries in North Africa. If Ethiopia, the source of the major tributary river will control the flow of water, it will affect Sudan and Egypt. In 1979, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said, “”The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”

It will probably take a thousand years before mankind will outgrow nationalism and see themselves as brothers and sisters of one human family. But there is no other road. We must now espouse universal brotherhood. There is no other way. It is no longer just patriotism. It will no longer be nationalism, but a love of mankind. As Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, wrote: “In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.”

The Life-Changing Effects of Optimism

We desire two things in the way we live our lives — to be effective and to be happy. To be effective is to have higher batting average in achieving our goals. To be happy is to be happy, no explanation needed.

Many years ago, I was surprised to learn how optimism makes a difference in attaining both. It was a quality that I had ignored because I had the impression that some people seem to be naturally optimistic and others pessimistic.

What is optimism? It is, says the dictionary, “a tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.” Its opposite is pessimism, which means “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc.” (

Suppose I am scheduled for a job interview. An optimist is upbeat, excited and feeling that he will impress the interviewer. The pessimist on the other will be apprehensive, thinking of the worst scenario, and already feeling a bit depressive at the thought that he will be rejected. A realist, on the other hand, will perhaps just prepare and do his best, not too excited and not so apprehensive, ready to accept whatever is the outcome of the interview.

Normally, we will say that the realist is more correct in his outlook. But after learning about the effects of optimism, I am no longer so sure that realism is necessarily the best disposition. I realize that optimists (as well as pessimists) create part of their own future due to their attitudes. Thus the optimist has certain advantages not found among the realists and much less the pessimists.

The famous psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, wrote in his book Learned Optimism:

“Hundreds of studies show that pessimists give up more easily and get de-pressed more often. These experiments also show that optimists do much better in school and college, at work and on the playing field . They regularly exceed the predictions of aptitude tests. When optimists run for office, they are more apt to be elected than pessimists are. Their health is unusually good. They age well, much freer than most of us from the usual physical ills of middle age. Evidence suggests they may even live longer” (p. 5).

A pessimistic person will easily give up, while an optimistic person will keep on trying even when defeat looks certain. One of the largest insurance companies in the world is Metropolitan Life. Every year it selects thousands of qualified applicants to become new salespeople to sell life insurance. The applicants had to pass exams and interviews. After they were hired, the company would spend a lot of money training these new employees. The company, however, felt very frustrated because a high percentage of these hirees would give up and resign. They consulted psychologist Martin Seligman who suggested to them that he was going to give applicants a test on optimism. He hired those who scored high in optimism even if they flunked the standard tests of Metropolitan. The results were surprising. Those who scored high in optimism stayed more years in the company, and outperformed the pessimists in sales by up to 88%.

Studies were made in other industries, such as banking, real estate, and automotive sales, and the results were the same. Author Steven Kotler wrote: “No matter their industry, the hopeful outsold the hopeless by 20 to 40%. . . . On the job, they are better at handling pressure, overcoming adversity and have a higher degree of ‘employee engagement.’”

More important, optimism leads to a happier life. Dr. Betty Phillips wrote: “Optimism and pessimism are explanatory styles of thinking about life events which predict a positive vs. negative mood and expansive vs. Inhibited behavior. People with optimistic explanations of life generally feel happier and more energized to cope with obstacles, seeing them as challenges rather than failure experiences. Optimists are more likely to analyze whether setbacks are situational, then are able to develop plans to remove obstacles to their goals. Pessimists are more likely to view life problems as personal failures, blame themselves, feel unhappy and give up trying to change.” (

Next time, don’t reproach yourself for being pollyanish. That attitude may spell the difference.