Waking Up America
A Return to What Made Us Great
an op-ed piece by John Renesch
2003 © John Renesch
Has anyone else noticed that there are a few facts that contradict the values we Americans claim to hold near and dear?
We think of ourselves as champions of democracy yet the majority of us didn’t bother to vote in the last national election. We claim to advocate freedom in the rest of the world yet we do our best to bully, bribe and coerce other countries to do our bidding and impose our values on other cultures.
Our souls scream for community yet we avert our eyes whenever we pass someone on the sidewalk. We complain about how busy we are yet we continue to make choices that add to our busy-ness. Based upon our actions, we’d rather interact with technology than other people.
We claim to abhor violence yet we surround ourselves with it every day – in the movies we watch, the news we listen to, and the words in the music we choose.
We get so righteous about any nation we identify as our foe for going back on its word yet we ourselves break international treaties designed for the good of all. We refuse to join other nations in the banning and removal of landmines, environmental initiatives such as the Earth Summit, remain outside of the international war crime tribunals, and continue being in arrears in our U.N. support. Who’s ignored more UN resolutions, broken more treaties, and ignored world opinion more than the U.S.?
To use the old colloquialism, our walk doesn’t match our talk.
We claim to cherish life but what our actions tell the world that we only cherish American lives.
We condemn religious fundamentalism yet we fill our store windows with posters extorting that God is blessing our country – certainly a strong implication that the one true God is with us.
We see the ourselves as a paternalistic nation – the world’s protector of freedom and democracy – the one nation with the power and the responsibility to make the world safe. Yet, the rest of the world is afraid of us and we tell them to go to hell. We have become the big bully in the world, if not with our military intrusions then with our blustery rhetoric. While we are the richest nation in the world, we give the least percentage of our wealth to other countries.
A psychiatrist friend of mine called this schism or disconnectedness between one’s stated values and how one actually lives their life as “double-mindedness.”
The evidence suggests that we have become a nation of liars and hypocrites – at least if you compare what we say we value and what we value with our actions – our votes, our wallets, our behaviors and the legitimacy we give to our designated leaders.
Perhaps we Americans are not as self-centered as we appear to be. Perhaps we have simply drifted into a stupor as a result of being so wrapped up in our own lives – like falling into a coma. It isn’t too late to come out of our stupor. It begins by seeing our complicity in the state of the world and that it isn’t simply everyone else’s fault.
Americans can transcend their double-mindedness by simply growing up. Like the adolescent who eventually needs to leave the house where he or she grew up, it is time for us to become mature citizens of the world. We needn’t give up our national identity or forsake our patriotism. Adolescents don’t forsake their parents when they leave home, or forget their home towns. They simply expand their sense of who they are to include other neighborhoods, cities, states and other regions of the world. Their universe expands as a part of growing up.
Americans have an opportunity right now. We have another chance to demonstrate global leadership and mature global citizenship, just as we have in generations past.
One of America’s greatest traditions has been that we held ourselves to higher standards in all that we did. I’d like to see us – as a “We the People” nation – renew that tradition, not just in talk but in our deeds as well.
John Renesch is a San Francisco-based social commentator, futurist and author of Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing.