Friday, February 10, 2012

What Was So Amazing About America ?

        I am probably one of the best people to write on this subject. I am the daughter of an American explorer, and of a British gentlewoman. My mother chose never to relinquish her status as a British subject, even though she lived forty years in the United States. My parents had friends from all over the world, and sometimes they visited our home.   I am an American, but I live part time in Canada when I can get there, which I also love very much.  I see myself as I believe most of us should, as citizens of the world. It hurts me when families are being slaughtered in Syria, or when orphans have insufficient medicine  in orphanages in Russia, or when a national leader threatens to annihilate the citizens of Israel.  I am also deeply disturbed by the changes which have come to America which have accelerated its culture in decline and reduced it to a shadow of its former self.
              Why do some foreigners hate America, and dislike American visitors ?  This is simple.  In the past,  many Americans have visited foreign lands and expected to be catered to. Rather than being polite and trying to fit in and learn about the customs of another place, they have expected to have their whims catered to, and they have lacked the ability to see the importance of  "When in Rome.......".  Some of us have been arrogant and abrasive.   Some Americans are loud and are disrespectful, and the memory of this is carried long after their visit concludes.     Why do Islamic extremists hate America ?   This is much more complex, but one of the reasons is that we export the worst of our culture in the form of television programs which exaggerate different aspects of our culture and its people.  When I was in Russia for a month, it took me a lot of time to explain and clarify a lot of the misconceptions normal Russians had with regard to "everyone in America".  The soap opera  "Santa Barbara" runs on Russian television, as does "Dallas", and "Dynasty".   These are simply stories in which rare wealthy people are shown enjoying their cash, and not necessarily their lives. They are also pictures of perverse or missing morality. This is not American culture, and one of the reasons these programs were made is that, at the time, the programs were fascinating to Americans too. If America really did reflect such values, the disdain of a portion of the Muslim world might actually be appropriate.   Americans are as diverse a group as Russians are.  Americans consist of  a variety of ethnicities.  Most of us try to keep some part of the cultures we came from alive.  My family remembers our Scottish and English heritage, and we enjoy some portion of the Swiss culture that my husband's family hailed from originally.  However, we all meet here in a US melting pot, where we all have more in common than we have differences.  A few Americans are very wealthy.  There is a shrinking middle class in this country. Most Americans are now what would best be referred to as "working poor".   They have jobs but struggle to make ends meet, pay for food, pay rent, or hang on to a home, and sometimes for health care and insurance as well.   Retirement for many will be out of reach. Like the Russians, Americans can be a very generous people.  Americans as individuals try hard to send computers, technology for wells, technology to grow food, and microloans for businesses to lands which need this type of help.  Exposes on America often focus on the negative aspects of America, while ignoring those who quietly do good in the world.
               What was so amazing about America ?  Why was it a beloved and blessed place ?    First, America started with some important ideas and principles. First, the ideal was that anyone, even those born of what was considered low station, could work hard and become something much more than that.  There was to be no royalty here.  Each man was considered to have been "created equal".   Of course it took this nation time to consider slaves men and to grant them full status, and it took time for the potential of women to be recognized as well, but few places if any, on Earth were doing so at the time.  Even today, many nations still support slavery and tertiary class status for women.  The United States from its inception also believed that we were given these things by God, and that man could only succeed in any venture, with the blessings and support of God.   America, as it grew, nurtured a rugged individualism which fostered a rare inventiveness in all eras.
              The United States was exceptional because it held exceptional opportunities.  At one time, a pauper from another land could come to one of our cities. He could start a business and work many hours each day. By the time his children were old enough, some would expand his business, some could become a police officer, and one would become an attorney.  The courses of people's lives could be turned around within 30 years.   In Europe, even today, one must train to do almost everything.  There is a flavor of protectionism which prevents many from choosing a career change, or from doing a certain task themselves.   In the US, it was more possible to train to do something entirely new, to start a new business, or to market a simple idea and make millions.  Millions is not the goal here. The education and the chance to propel ones progeny into jobs they love and futures better from those in which they came is the objective, and America, at one time, could do that.
               The United States was a place where rugged individualism was admired and even nurtured. When I was a teen it was not unusual to hear of someone who did not finish high school, who started his own business, with perhaps one truck of some kind. Over time, he bought more trucks, hired more people, and ultimately expanded from removing trash to owning a multi-million dollar business which relocates potentially hazardous materials.  In his early fifties, the man pays for college for all five of his children, and for his nephew also. He retires as a millionaire. Now, many of those who have highly rated university degrees can't find a job better than the one they had while attending college.  In many places, people with masters degrees are making our sandwiches.
               Somewhere along the road, America lost its way.   Perhaps it started when people watched their own bottom line more closely than they watched our politicians. Perhaps people did not speak up as much as they should have when politicians began to tinker with everything from the tax structure to the Constitution.  Perhaps when our officials spent money like water, more of us should have expressed outrage.  Perhaps, our educational system in the United States which is short sighted at best, and abyssmally bad in some areas, made our impending failure as a nation an inevitability. Perhaps, "In God We Trust" was ignored.   Perhaps, the rest of the world simply caught up in terms of innovation and creativity.   My hope is that our political challenges, weakening educational systems,  and our financial challenges improve, and that we can continue as a positive member of one of the countries of the world.