How to love a country with a complicated history | CNN

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Decades before George Takei became Mr. Sulu on the original “Star Trek” series, he was imprisoned for a crime he had never committed.


When he was a young child, he and his family were sent to World War II internment camps on American soil, along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans. Decades later, it is clear that his country broke his heart, and he remains committed to ensuring Americans are aware of this injustice.

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Yet Teki also speaks of his deep love for his country. This tradition of loving one’s country but not always liking what is done in its name is not new. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the agitation that followed, it is more relevant than ever. Many Americans are finding out about parts of American history that were not taught in schools, including the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 and Juneteenth.

But that wisdom often comes with emotional challenges. Some are rising up against guilt, shame or anger as collective understandings of the country’s past have been questioned and narratives about favorite holidays have been dismissed. Some are realizing that other Americans have long been aware of these realities.

Dolly Chugh, a social psychologist and Jacob B. Melnick Terme Professor at New York University Stern School of Business, has been studying the “psychology of good people” for two decades, and she knows firsthand how challenging it is to self-identify and Narratives about nationality have been challenged.

The author of the newly released book “A More Just Future: Psychological Tools for Reckoning with Our Past and Driving Social Change“Chug won’t leave you hanging. In this talk, she provides seven tools based on psychological research that can help you learn and learn American history.”

Angela Duckworth: You have to talk to the original Sulu from “Star Trek,” George Takei! How was that and what does this have to do with your work?

Dolly Chugh: The interview begins with her spontaneously saying “Hello, Dolly!” Singing happened. As for me, then he definitely did hello to me!

More importantly, I wanted to hear about an early part of his life that many of us know little about. When the United States and Japan were enemies during World War II, the US government forced Japanese Americans to leave their homes, communities, and jobs. They were kept in barracks behind barbed wire and armed soldiers. George essentially spent four years of his childhood in captivity for a crime that neither he nor his family had committed.

George is now 85, and tears welled up in my eyes as he spoke about what a grave mistake his country had made and the love he had for that country. This patriotism is much more than what colors we wear or what holidays we celebrate.

Dolly Chugh of the NYU Stern School of Business offers seven tools that can help you learn and unlearn American history.  (courtesy jenny ashton)

I came in thinking differently about my patriotism. George helped me realize that I didn’t deserve an easy, undeniable love of country. It takes patience, a word I have learned from your wonderful research and book Defining patience as “passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a meaningful, long-term goal”.

A gritty patriot is one whose patriotism shows up with that orientation toward action and reform, and who takes passion and perseverance! Grit is something that Americans are really proud of, so it’s just applying it to our relationship with our country and its past.

Duckworth: Why is patience needed when thinking about patriotism?

Chow: As our awareness grows, what we learn can be disturbing. I feel guilt and shame, disbelief and anger, and frankly, at times, I shut down. This reaction is at play in the debate over what should be taught in schools. It’s especially hard to ignore the narratives tied to our identities as Americans. Grit is required.

Duckworth: What changed for you?

Chow: Well, like many things, I’m learning from my kids. Little House on the Prairie Books is loved by millions, and my family is no exception. In 2011, I read the series to my kids, and they loved it. We also traveled to Minnesota and South Dakota, where the Ingalls family actually lived. My kids were really into the whole experience, even wearing prairie clothes! But at some point, I felt that the story I had read to him was not the whole story. Of course, I tsk-tsked at the moments of racism in the books, but never really linked it to the broader social context for my kids — or even myself.

I never questioned the American story I grew up reading and watching. On whose pier was that house built? Whose land and life were claimed? I didn’t try to teach my girls that the Ingalls family were American heroes and colonists. And the truth was, my kids could absolutely handle it. I was the one who didn’t know how. I didn’t have the equipment. I am trying to make those tools available to people with my book.

Duckworth: You are talking a lot about history but you are not a historian. What’s the connection?

Chow: Absolutely. I am not a historian, and this is certainly not a history book. I am a social psychologist. I see why people do what they do, especially when it concerns other people. I’m interested in what science can tell us about how people think about their past – about their country’s past – and how that thinking affects the present.

Duckworth: So how is looking at how we think about the past relevant today?

Chow: So many people are hungry for guidance. Should we change the mascot of our favorite football team? Should we demolish a Sanghi leader’s statue? Should we celebrate Thanksgiving? Should we teach our children about slavery? Should We Teach Critical Race Theory in Schools? And what is Critical Race Theory, anyway?

There is research that can help us. And once we’ve dealt with the emotions that come up, we can get into gritty patriots.

Duckworth: You provide seven tools. What is it that I can use right away to help me understand my complex history?

Chow: Practice Contrast Spotting! You can do this everywhere. Our mind prefers continuity and opposes contradiction. But sometimes, several truths contradict each other. Our ancestors had extraordinary ideals and visions, they displayed extraordinary courage and they overcame extraordinary obstacles. And many of our ancestors enslaved other humans. He separated families and condoned the torture of those who protested, while also writing about freedom, justice, and liberty.

So the first step is to adopt a contrarian mindset. A new book called “both/and thinking“Described by Wendy Smith and Marianne Lewis, how a contradiction mindset enables us to be resilient and to see creative solutions.

Instead of looking for uniformity in the world today, look for contradictions. Let both things be true. Then notice how your mind loosens up to allow knowledge that you might have otherwise pushed away. I could use it when I was teaching to my kids, and it would open up conversations I didn’t know how to do.

Duckworth: So what can I do next?

Chow: A big part of being a gritty patriot is being willing to give away a narrative. Choose one like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving or the true story of Rosa Parks and learn the real story. Then tell three people what you learned. Use yourself as an example of someone who is actively unlearning and learning, which brings up feelings. It will be the model for others of what it means to be a gritty patriot.

Duckworth: Who do you suggest talking to?

Chow: anyone. Your kids, your coworkers, your neighbors. For extra credit, ignore a narrative concerning your racial or ethnic identity and ancestry. Then discuss it with your family. This is especially difficult because of the power of nostalgia, a sentimental form of history that may or may not be based in fact.

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