Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
With Memorial Day Weekend approaching I couldn’t help but think of my son who sent me a picture last week standing in front of a government building in Chile where a massacre had occurred during a military coup.
He was amazed saying, “You can still see the bullet holes in the wall!” The coup did not happen in ancient times but in 1973, which seems like recent history.
The coup involved the bombing of their capital building on Sept. 11 with over 70 innocent people executed as a dictator took power by force. The elected government collapsed which ended a democracy that had been in place since 1932.
At the same time this was happening we were being entertained by television shows like MASH and the Brady Bunch and pretty much oblivious to what was happening.
Here in the U.S. we sometimes have partisan divides over politics, social policies and economic approaches, among other things, but outside of the politically correct movement, we are still pretty much free to think and speak the way we would like, as long as we follow the law.
The idea that we could ever lose this freedom may be incomprehensible to us, especially for people who have never experienced the soul-crushing deprivations associated with heavy-handed government rule.
It seems that our freedom in America is a priceless gift that too many of us take for granted — and it is a gift that comes at a tremendous price.
Military action to create and keep our freedom has resulted in the deaths of over 1.35 million men and women serving in our armed forces since 1775. Memorial Day is wholly dedicated to remembering those who have died in service of our country helping to gain and protect the freedom we now enjoy.
Unfortunately, there is a powerful psychological process that works against us in remembering the sacrifices made for freedom and reduces our motivation to make the effort needed to retain it. It is based in the architecture of our brain where we have a strong tendency to accept or even ignore that which is going well and does not pose a threat in order to concentrate on things that are not to our liking.
In other words, our brain has a natural tendency to shrug off things that are comfortable and familiar and to look for that which causes discontent. This tendency is based in our survival need which calls our attention to possible concerns over all else.
This phenomenon explains why a hungry person may be ecstatic to get a piece of chicken while that same person when well-fed may complain that the chicken is not seasoned properly.
In our country, it accounts for why it seems some people take the freedom we have for granted while complaining vociferously over smaller concerns — even to the point of jeopardizing the freedom that permits them to voice their opinion in the first place. It is as if our brain really doesn’t know what we have lost until we actually experience its absence.
Many of our neighbors and people in our community work in our intelligence agencies and the military and privately some of them shake their heads in disbelief at the lack of understanding the general public seems to have about the aggressiveness of the world around us.
One source that wished to remain anonymous recently said, “We are at war everyday as there are many countries and ideologies around the world that want to harm us and are actively trying to take down our systems and create conflict. If people really knew how aggressive the world is, they probably wouldn’t sleep at night.”
It takes effort to overcome our psychological tendency to ignore the familiar in order to fully value the freedom we have become so comfortable with. If we don’t make the effort to remember the tremendous sacrifices that allow us to enjoy this freedom and prosperity, we are at greater risk of losing it, and there is no guarantee that we would ever get it back.
This Memorial Day, many of us will enjoy the national holiday by sleeping in, going for a hike, swimming at the just-opened pool, watching movies and barbecuing. While we are relaxing and enjoying our freedom, please, take time to honor the many men and women who have given their lives for us and our country.
Dr. Scott E. Smith is a licensed psychologist with Spectrum Behavioral Health in Maryland. To contact him, call 410-757-2077 or write to 1509 Suite F, Ritchie Highway, Arnold, MD 21012.