PATRIOTISM and nationhood are things we tend to associate with the past - the "glory days" when brave young Kiwi men left on troopships to fight for the flag and the free world in distant lands.

Since then we've had other seminal moments in history which have served to fuel our pride in being a New Zealander; Ed Hillary knocking off Everest in 1953, Peter Snell knocking off world running records in the 1960s, taking a stand on South Africa's apartheid policy during the 1981 Springbok tour and then US nuclear weapons policy a few years later.

In 1987, we had World Cup rugby glory and, in the 90s, Peter Blake generated national pride and New Zealand identity by showing the brilliant little guy could out-perform the wealthy big one.

But since then (with the exception of another Rugby World Cup in 2011 and the odd Olympic blaze of glory), the sorts of major events that generate and fuel the fire of nationhood have been few and far between.

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Rapid changes in technology, globalisation and the continued shift towards user-pays from the nanny state have chipped away at "we" in favour of "me".

If you'd asked me a year ago how I ranked our sense of national pride from one to 10, I'd have given us a sluggish three or four.

But an extraordinary confluence of national and world events recently have made me reconsider that.

The flag debate may be causing some division, but it has given us the opportunity to discover that, as a nation, we do actually care about the colours we stand under, and the process has triggered an important conversation about what it means to be a Kiwi. When you look at it like that, $25 million seems rather cheap. At the same as we've been considering the flag that represents us, the Syrian crisis has prompted us to look at who should be represented by it.

And yet, across the ditch in the "lucky country", Kiwis who would almost certainly consider themselves Australians are kicked out of the club ostensibly for petty crimes but realistically for the greater crime of not being a citizen. It's ironic given that at one point in Australia's history, the only thing you did require to step ashore and stay there was a conviction.

Some support Australia's new tough-line attitude to citizenship and refugees. Others don't.

Closer to home, Hawke's Bay is the latest region to reject amalgamation of its councils. Which is a different issue from flags, refugees and citizenship, but not much different. It's still about all of us looking closely at who we are and where we belong, and having community dialogue about it. Regardless of the results, the invaluable by-product is that for the first time in a long time, our sense of patriotism and community (global and local) is being given a shot of adrenaline not being administered by an athlete or someone holding a weapon. That can only be a good thing. A great thing.

I might disagree with some of the practical decisions that are being made don't even get me started on the "Red Peak" squabble), but I'd rather see New Zealanders standing up communicating passionately about who we are than sitting down in isolated insouciance.

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