op-ed for January 2005, sent to UPI Outside View
Has America Stopped Becoming?
by John Renesch
2005 © John Renesch
For a good part of our nation’s life, we were a society of dreamers. We were growing, maturing and learning how to bring forth the vision of our founders over 200 years ago. We were a work in progress, still developing. We earned our share of bloody noses and bruises to our pride through a number of mistakes as we continued to learn and grow and mature as a young country. We grew from being a small band of revolutionaries to a sovereign nation and then to the most powerful country on Earth in a very brief time relative to human history.
Somewhere during the last several decades, we stopped trying to become better. We stopped growing, except in population and economic terms. We stopped learning, developing and maturing. We stopped dreaming and we started protecting.
You see this happen with some teenagers who get a few things right and then start thinking they know it all. Pride turns to hubris and they become stubbornly entrenched in their arrogance. They think they are invincible, know-it-all and they project those images.
It seems to me we Americans have become stubbornly entrenched in our arrogance. We certainly haven’t shown much interest in acquiring whatever wisdom might be offered by any other culture.
One of the great things about these United States is that our greatness came out of our constant reinventing ourselves, the “can do” society which emulated the curious youngster who is constantly inquiring. Like a sponge soaking up all the wisdom life had to offer, humility allowed us to learn from the mistakes we made as well as from the mistakes made by other cultures throughout history.
Our innate greatness has become part of our egoic self-image and we have slipped into a mode of protecting ourselves. Instead of inspiring the rest of the world we are now trying to dominate them, flaunting our power over others, rubbing our material success in their faces. Self-confidence has morphed into self-righteousness and most of the world is more afraid of us than they are of terrorists.
As John O’Neil points out is his book The Shadow of Success, hubris was the hero’s “fatal flaw” in classical Greek drama. Successful leaders who fail to witness their shadow side are doomed to experience the “fatal flaw” at some point in their careers. This shadow side applies to nations as well as people and corporations. Historians claim nearly all great empires eventually failed because of this. You might say they committed national suicide!
Will America become “just another country” as some Europeans have been predicting? Will history report us as a once great society which eventually succumbed to the same “fatal flaw” that caused the Roman and British empires to implode?
I hope we can look deeply into our national arrogance, our know-it-all attitude, and begin dreaming, learning and growing again so we can return to becoming as great as we can be. I hope we once again become an inspiration to the world instead of a dominator. If we do not, we are risking our destiny and possibly even our survival.