In the recent flap about athletes, coaches, owners, and others  “dishonoring” our country’s  flag and national anthem, there are important lessons to be learned — three, at least.

The first and most important one is that words and actions do not mean; people do. Those who speak and act need to be as clear as possible about what they say and do since their words and actions can find multiple meanings in the minds of others. And those others need to ask what is meant before jumping to their own, often self-serving, judgmental conclusions.

Second, freedom is more than just a word in this country; it is a way of life, as is law, both put their own limits on what one says or chooses to do. Both require forethought and sensitivity to others as well as to context. They rely on one’s personal integrity. Freedom and law. Both go hand in hand.  When both are respected, what is said and done in this country should be respected as well.

Third, the media particularly need to report more than news. They need to ask the hard questions that get to the meaning of what is said and done. An image may be “worth more than a thousand words” but, like words themselves the choice and editing of images need to be free of bias. Grabbing one’s attention is not nearly enough to fulfill the media’s responsibilities to tell the full story. “Talking heads” can analyze and interpret but how the news gets reported initially is what the mass mind hears.

The recent events surrounding athletes and the anthem have nothing to do with “dishonor.”  The athletes are challenging our country to “get it right,” to be better than we are. Sitting or taking a knee during the national anthem is a non-violent statement about the present and vicious shortcomings of social justice in our country. The comixing of sports and politics may be questionable, but where can one go to find solidarity for such an issue? Rosa Parks took a bus seat. Colin Kaepernick and later, others, took a knee. Their actions spoke visually and viscerally to those really listening. They were saying, “Listen up, America!”

Unfortunately, both the media’s response, at least initially, and the President’s seem to have missed the meaning of what was being said. For whatever reasons, the President heard anarchy rather than anger and anxiety. Those who really listened know there is no dishonor in wanting our country to live up to the promises that the flag and anthem represent.

It all comes down to being clearly heard. Listeners may disagree with – or ignore – such statements, but in this land those who dare to make them deserve to be respected, not discredited or demonized.