OPINION – Peer pressure is a tricky thing. This is particularly true as it applies to young people.
At one time or another, most of us received the timeless parental admonition, “If your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?”
This can be good advice, especially when one’s peers are encouraging participation in risky or unethical behaviors. Groupthink tends to bring out the worst in people where the sense of safety in numbers tempers any sense of personal responsibility.
However, when individual responsibility is applied to practices that many consider patriotic, people tend to lose their minds.
Case in point, my friend’s son attends high school in Southern Utah. He is a clean cut, respectful young man.
Recently, after researching the history and origin of the pledge of allegiance, this young man decided that he no longer wishes to participate. This is a matter of personal conscience rather than a protest against a perceived wrong.
Instead of standing and joining with his classroom at the start of each school day, he chooses to sit quietly at his desk until the class has finished the pledge.
The reaction of his teacher and some of his peers has been revealing.
His teacher has applied gradually increasing levels of threats and coercion to get him to take part in the pledge. Last week, this culminated in the teacher threatening to “physically remove” the young man from his classroom if he would not participate.
At least one classmate wrote an impassioned note to the young man describing how disrespectful he found it to fail to participate in the pledge. He accused my friend’s son of “spitting in the face” of those who’ve served in the military to defend the flag.
Perhaps you’re feeling a sense of outrage or disgust as you read of this young man’s refusal to take part in the pledge of allegiance. Maybe you’re questioning his motives or dismissing his decision as attention-seeking.
Why is that?
I ask this because a lot of good, otherwise reasonable, people seem to reflexively lash out with anger when someone declines to participate in patriotic ritual. It’s as if they feel a duty to defend the flag from some unjustified attack or disrespect.
But is it really an attack?
If your blood pressure is rising at the thought of a high school student peacefully abstaining from the pledge of allegiance, I have a few questions for you.
How and when did the pledge of allegiance come into being?
What do you know about Francis and Edward Bellamy, the brothers who gave us the pledge?
What was their stated purpose for incorporating this pledge into the daily routine of public school students?
Would you recognize the Bellamy salute that originally accompanied the pledge?
If we cannot answer these questions, then why are we getting bent out of shape over something most of us recognize only because we were trained to do it by rote?
Getting angry over something which we ourselves do not understand is not the mark of a rational thought process. Treating a peaceful act of personal conscience as an act requiring violent correction doesn’t reflect well on whatever it is we think we’re defending.
Is the American ideal of liberty and justice so fragile that it cannot withstand a single student failing to participate in a group loyalty oath? Or does the danger stem from the fact that this particular dissent is playing out in a compulsory government education system?
If my friend’s son were disrupting or otherwise preventing the rest his class from taking part in the pledge, that would be unacceptable. But how is sitting quietly while others recite the pledge offering offense or disrespect?
How can we claim to be honoring a symbol of freedom when even peaceful acts of personal conscience cannot be tolerated?
Difficult as the thought may be, the people who are getting worked up over his nonparticipation are not the ones thinking or behaving rationally. Most have never considered that there may be a reasonable explanation for his decision.
Unlike the individuals who are decrying his lack of patriotism and expressing disgust at his perceived lack of respect for the flag, he actually did his homework before making an informed choice to abstain.
Even when presented with the information that led him to opt out of the pledge, too many of his critics claim that he’s still wrong for not going along with the rest of his class.
It’s as if they’d rather be wrong with the crowd than risk standing alone for following the dictates of their own conscience.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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