Ask what your country can do for you (and the world)

Over the span of a lifetime, most people have various changing employers/jobs. A couple of decades ago this thought would have upset many. Nowadays, it is considered the default in most developed regions and industries. But when it comes to countries of residence and nationalities, the majority of people follow the ideal of lifelong loyalty and dedication to one country and culture – usually the one they grew up in.

Many, if not most people, have internalized the idea of belonging into the country they are citizen of. Some are even developing quite an advanced level of patriotism and nationalism. Others do not go quite that far, but still are willing to put an effort into “their” country. John F. Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” stands emblematic for that mindset.

Lately I have started to question this way of looking at things. In the globalized world of 2015, one country depends on pretty much every other country in some way or another. Even though nationalism currently experiences a certain level of revival – as a nostalgic and populist counter-movement to the unprecedented change the world is going through at the moment – the concept is nothing but a deceiving facade to make some worried people feel better for a short amount of time.

The thought of giving sacrifices and being loyal to “my” country at all costs is what confuses me the most. Why would I stand with a country which acts in ways which I do not endorse? Just because of my passport and some artificially drawn borders on a map? If you are honest to yourself, that does not make a lot of sense.

What makes more sense in my eyes is conditional loyalty to a country. Instead of guaranteeing a country my unlimited support, I make my loyalty depending on the country’s actions in a globalized world. As long as my values mostly align with the policies of the country I call home, I am happy to do everything I can to support these policies. But if I stop seeing that kind of match between my values and the values that my country stands for, my loyalty ends. Instead, I will lend my loyalty, knowledge, taxes and moral support to another country which better reflects my world view. Today it is easier than ever to relocate to another country, especially but not only for the growing number of entrepreneurial/self-employed people. It also is easier than ever to teach yourself a language and to get familiar with a new culture. You just need the Internet, an open mind and the willingness to learn.

If such a mindset would become widespread, it could have dramatic consequences. It would put countries in competition for people, their brain power and their tax money – on a much bigger scale than this is the case today. And it also would mean a natural end of patriotism and nationalism, which can only work if people have bought into the idea of lifetime loyalty to one country no matter what.

Most reasonably skilled people would not keep working for a company whose practices, ethics and culture they reject. They’d look for a new opportunity which better reflects their identity, goals and values. People could treat countries the exactly same way. In today’s connected and intertwined world, I’d suggest to consider the opposite of what Kennedy once said: Do not ask what you can do for your country, but ask what your country can do for you (and for the world). Because in 2015, your country needs you more than you need your country.

Imagine this: You wake up this morning, open your messaging inbox and find “applications” from 4 different countries that would like to win you over as new citizen. No matter if you are open to such an adventure or not – wouldn’t it be pretty exciting?

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