my childhood, February always ranked as the most patriotic month. In
school, we seemed to spend forever cutting out silhouettes of Lincoln
and smearing brown Crayolas over our wobbly drawings of log cabins. No
sooner had the library paste dried than it was time for cherry trees,
hatchets and pictures of George Washington with his funny ponytail and
Be all that as it may, I got thinking about whether I am really patriotic. And that’s when I decided we need a new word; so I coined one.
Now think about it. “Patriotic,” of course, comes from the Latin pater, meaning father. A patriot is one “who loves and loyally or zealously supports his own country” or fatherland. A perfectly good word for a perfectly good feeling.
“Matriotic,” by analogy, comes from the Latin mater. A matriot then, is one who loves and loyally or zealously supports her motherland, her own planet - Mother Earth.
The two words are not perfectly analogous, fortunately, otherwise people might see conflict of interest where there is none. Patriotism, as we use the word, is about the flag, the government, and the history of a nation - in our case, the Bill of Rights, free elections and the peaceful transfer of power (even after a national trauma like Watergate or the Iran-Contra Affair).
Matriotism, on the other hand, is yin to patriotism’s yang. It’s about the Earth, not the world. It’s about what those fortunate few have seen from spaceship portals, not what we see on a map or a globe with regularly updated borderlines and political color-coding.
Matriotism is about one sun by day and one moon by night - a moon that waxes and wanes and marks months and menses whether you live in Moscow, Idaho, or Moscow, Texas. It’s about what human beings have felt since the dawn of time when they lay on their backs on the ground and looked up at floating clouds or glittering stars.
Patriotism has always had a lot of the zest of competition in it - rival teams, us and them, Britain’s battles being won on the playing fields of Eton, and all that. My country, right or wrong. My country over the other countries.
Matriotism, by contrast, recognizes that while there may be six- or seven-score fatherlands, there is only one motherland. There are political divisions that have risen, prospered, and utterly vanished, civilizations and great cities that are no more. But while we have her, there is only one Mother Earth.
She’s done a little rearranging from time to time, what with volcanoes and earthquakes and such. But last spring, I stood on a grassy meadow in England and was informed that the same trees I was seeing, the same boulders, the same stream, had been seen and touched by Anglo-Saxons, by Romans and by Stone Age Brits.
Many cultures, patriots of many nations - but one earth. Some call her Spaceship Earth today.
So it’s not either-or; it’s not a matter of patriotism vs. matriotism. It’s just a matter of bringing our matriotism a little more to the forefront, perhaps.
For instance, we could start with a holiday. A matriotic holiday, a worldwide day of celebration, gratitude, and rededication to the planet. We’d need a flag, of course, and we’d need a song - an anthem, really.
Wouldn’t it be quite a feeling to have an international anthem (no, not the Internationale) that little kids all over the world would learn to sing about the oceans and the mountains and the sands and the snows of Earth?
We could certainly work up a pledge of allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the soil, and to the air we breathe, to every species beneath the sun….”
We’d certainly need a Matriots’ Hall of Fame someplace - maybe onboard a ship that would sail from country to country, celebrating the great matriots who fought for Mother Earth, whether by saving the whales and the gorillas and the snail darters, or by engineering new strains of seed that would feed more on less, or by finding the key to practical mass use of solar energy instead of fossil fuels - and so on.
Some people might not get too excited about being matriotic, seeing that it lacks that old competitive edge. On the other hand, remember what Walt Kelly’s cartoon possum Pogo said: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” This fight to save Mother Earth could end up the biggest battle of all. Elouise Bell is professor emeritus of English at Brigham Young University, a syndicated columnist and the author of Only When I Laugh (Signature Books), from which this article was excerpted. Book excerpt
Matriotism’s Hall of Fame
Earth Island Journal is compiling an on-line version of the Matriot’s Hall of Fame at www.earthisland.org/eijournal/journal.cfm . Please join us in this attempt to honor the courageous matriots who have given their talents, their love and, at times, their very lives, to protect and defend this planet.
Rachel Carson Dian Fosey Judi Bari Wangari Maathai Winona LaDuke Arundhati Roy Donella Meadows Vandana Shiva Helen Caldicott Francis Moore Lappé Petra Kelly Medha Petkar Julia “Butterfly” Hill Anne Brower Amy Goodman Carolyn Merchant Hazel Wolf Digna Ochoa Lois Gibbs Karen Silkwood Cindy Duerhling Neta Golan Terri Swearingen Sylvia Earle Rosalie Edge Sylvia McLaughlin Starhawk David Brower John Muir Aldo Leopold Chico Mendes Ken Saro-Wiwa Anil Agarwal Jacques-Yves Cousteau Carl Sagan Ed Abbey David “Gypsy” Chain Berito Kuwaru’wa Ka Hsaw Wa Rodolfo Montiel Flores and Teodora Cabrera Paul Watson Huey Johnson Gaylord Nelson Ponderosa Pine William Penn Mott And all of the Goldman Environmental Award Winners and the nearly 700 recepients of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global 500 Award.
We welcome further nominations. Please send your suggestions to gsmith@earthisland. Results will be posted online.
Copyright Earth Island Journal
We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.Donate
Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.