Everywhere I go, I am surprised how much people all over the world know about the U.S.
• When I was in Russia a couple weeks ago, a young man came up to me and asked me if I was from the US. Then he began to ask me all kinds of questions about the housing market and sub-prime loan crisis. He wanted to know when I thought the market was going to recover, and what the relationship was going to be between the stock market and the upcoming elections.
• When I was in France, a woman who was originally from Scotland but now living in Norway taught me some interesting things I didn’t know about the current US presidential political candidates.
• When I was in China, a few people talked to me about wanting to move to the U.S., one man describing to me the uniqueness of some of the freedoms we have.
• When I was in Finland, I heard a black man from Tanzania defend the current situation in America to a white woman from South Africa who was speaking against certain parts of it.
I know other countries are talked about (e.g. French president’s new wife, Spain wining the Euro 2008, Russia’s and Putin, Zimbabwe’s election scandal…) but the situation in the US seems to command so much of the discussion of ordinary people around the world. To be honest, sometimes the discussion has made me feel somewhat awkward to be from the US, and at other times it has made me feel some degree of pride – but always it makes me think what a big responsibility it is to be the focal point of so much discussion.
I heard the CNN news host Glenn Beck talk at the Freedom Festival on the BYU campus about how much America craves for a leader, but how the greatness of America was never found in Washington DC or any of its politicians.
He talked about how in America we all now have been bombarded with talk and recognition of all of the problems and all of the dangers we face – and now the whole world knows all our problems. We often talk so much about the problems we currently face, that we totally miss the blessings and opportunities that we so easily take for grant it. So what is it that contributes to the ways in which America is great?
There has been a lot of new technologies and innovations which have come from America:
• Light bulb
• Assembly line
• Artificial heart
• Safety pins
• Water tower
• Polio vaccine
• Cotton candy
• Blue jeans
But this is not really what he thought makes America great.
Where is the greatness?
From his message, at least part of greatness of America is captured in two phrases:
1. “We the People” – the first three words on the Declaration of Independence – in large print. This is the belief that government does not solve our problems, but we solve them by serving our families and communities. Glenn Beck said: “We can solve any problem. Not in Washington, but right here. The answer never comes from Washington, it never has… The answer comes like a beacon in these three words – ‘We the People’”
2. “In God we Trust” – this phrase should bring humility, not arrogance. It is the belief that if we humble ourselves and trust in God, He can guide us into an uncertain and difficult future to do things that will benefit ourselves and those we care about (both in and out of the country).
George Washington, the first president, was a good example of this – not looking for power of government position, not interested in being a politician, but simply in doing his duty to serve for the sake of freedom. Glenn Beck pointed out that when George Washington was making his stance at Valley Forge during the war of independence, he was just a short way from the government capitol (which at that time was Philadelphia). During the cold winters, his wife was the one who made shirts and pants for the soldiers. “The government and congress did not do much to help them then. The situation has not changed that much today.”
As a strange side note, one of the news stories in the U.S. this year is that the fireworks displays tonight might not be as spectacular this year because it was more difficult to get fireworks from China due to the recent earthquake.
So even in talking about the positive aspects of American society, I can not get beyond the reality of how interconnected the world is now-a-days.
Since we are so interconnected, I’m curious – from an international perspective what do you think have been some of the positive and negative impacts America has made on the world?
OK, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave a talk on the same campus last year. In it he touted the successes of FDR (who was a polar opposite leader from Washington) and his policies. It seems one of the most powerful (if not every) politician in Washington holds beliefs that are contrary to Beck’s ideals.
Also, have you noticed the same thing I do when traveling abroad: The higher the education/social status of the people I talk to, the less perspective-taking they’re capable of.
For (one) example, I spent an afternoon being verbally assaulted for my nationality by various professors at one university. That same day a barely-literate police conscript was able to differentiate between the American people and the American government.
I agree that the first of your two great things is indeed a great strength of America. But I can’t see religion very high on my list of America’s great strengths. The way some U.S. leaders twist Christianity to fit their own personal and political purposes is unacceptable. And how many deeply religious, good people fall for that is incomprehensible.
First, you are wrong about inventions; most of them are not from US. However, I must agree that invention of a safety pin as well as a cotton candy were among few things that made US mighty.
Second, I believe, nowadays, you the people, totally misunderstand the ideas given by founding fathers. Many European countries (e.g. Sweden or Norway) are having a better social system then the one in US, despite the wellness of initial design of yours.
Last, as to me, religion never makes anything great and is a medieval echo that in a modern world has an impact only on poorly educated people.
Sorry for straight speaking.
Vote Ron Paul! 🙂
I’ll respond to the specifics of these comments later, but I just wanted to quickly share my observation that I see it as a good thing when people feel comfortable enough to respectfully disagree. [Although I think we are all agreed that safety pins and cotton candy was a really good idea 🙂 ]
At least in this case I think disagreement probably means that #1 it is an important enough issue to say something about, and #2 that you feel like your opinion will be respected even if it was different from the one originally stated. I like that.
Ok, more later…
“Anytime you ascribe another’s model of reality to their lack of education, moral development, faith, or any other attribute that places you into a presumptively superior position, you can be sure of one thing: You are the other’s inferior.”
Yes, I can easily see how the “In God we trust” aspect could be controversial. And I think it is very healthy for people discuss what that does and doesn’t mean.
First, maybe it is not as obvious on the outside (in Europe or other areas of the world) that there is more discussion in America than might appear regarding what “trusting in God” means from a political perspective.
Some argue that it shouldn’t be there at all, but most of the leaders of both parties at least claim a belief in God (so obviously neither has a monopoly on the good and bad that can come with that).
And at least it is very rare that any U.S. political leader would pretend to dictate the will of God, or for Americans to think that their political leaders are the mouthpiece of God (like many nations in the past who sort of dietize their political leader – equating political voice with the voice of God).
I think most Americans hope their leaders at least have a belief in God, if nothing else, to help keep the leader humble and realize there is a power greater than theirs – and that most Americans don’t let their political leaders use religion as an excuse for their own poor decisions.
I can only speak from my own experience, limited as it may be, but when I have felt closest to God – those spiritual experiences that are difficult to articulate but as real as the warmth of the sunlight – the result is always that I feel more love and less selfishness, less judgmental and more inspired to change anything that would keep me from reaching whatever potential growth, happiness, and love that I am capable of. At those times I feel a combination of joy, peace, confidence and humility. I can see already how my faith in God and these kinds of experiences have already pushed me to do far more and be different than I would have ever thought possible for someone as flawed and imperfect as me. Usually they also bring me some peace and hope about the future, and help me see what small role I might play in making it better than it otherwise would be.
What might sound even stranger is that the more education I receive, the more my faith seems to make sense and to be invaluable to me.
I hesitate to share that, as it is just my personal experience which might differ from others, but from what I hear from others – I am not an isolated case in having those types of experiences and feelings.
I guess the main point is that I think that when religion is at its best – it gets people outside of themselves. Not only in the service oriented do-gooder humanitarian stuff, but also a greater desire to use their best intelligence (and inspiration) to solve any problems that exist in their families, neighborhoods, businesses, communities, etc…
When religion is at its best, I think it helps people develop a personal relationship with God which allows them to even challenge their leaders, comparing anything their leaders say with established ethics and principles found in the scriptures and their own conscience.
America is full of those of different faiths or no faith in particular, but at least one of Christianity’s central messages is that greatness doesn’t come from a palace, but from a stable. It doesn’t come in war, wealth, or fame, but in “washing the feet” of our companions, in forgiving someone who has wronged us, in feeding the poor, in recognizing our own fallibility and admitting our mistakes, in helping people find relief from their trials, in recognizing and developing our unique talents, in giving credit to God, in finding joy in the creations around us, and also in our own power to create and be creative. There is a gap between belief and practice for most of us, but at least those are the ideals.
When religion is at its worst, I think it makes people arrogant, feeling justified in doing things that harm others, afraid of God or others, judgmental of those who are different, etc.
I find it interesting that those who founded the USA wanted to absolutely make sure that there was a separation of church and State (in order to make it difficult for anyone to discriminate against someone else because of their particular faith), even setting up a system of government that would never give absolute power to any one man – yet at the same time, they clearly felt it was wisdom that we should always recognize our dependence on God.
There clearly needs to be more discussion over what that does and doesn’t entail, as religious discrimination still exists and the relationship between faith and politics can be abused. But if nothing else, it is nice to live in a country where those things can (for the most part) be openly discussed and negotiated without the fear of someone throwing you into jail or hanging you for having a different opinion. There is a famous quote that says: “I may not agree with what you say, but I would give my life for your right to say it.”
I just hope healthy interpretations of “In God we Trust” arise before too much harm is done – and I think this can happen. It would be nice if much of that happened during this election cycle…but I guess we will see.
Well – this comment was longer than I expected, but I guess your questions and provocative statements stimulated a lot of good reflection. Any more thoughts from anyone about this?
I loved how when I travelled to three different countires last year that people were thrilled to hear we were from the U.S. For Egypt especially, tourism is one of the only ways they make money, so they love Americans. The only ‘diss’ I received in England was that they loved to call us Yankees! 🙂
As for all the issues… I am floored at how much everyone else knows… I don’t think half of us could have a decent conversation on half the topics you mentioned!!
Great post. Despite what some comments say, America has contributed a host of new technologies (many of which you mentioned) to the world. Even when those technologies were actually “invented” elsewhere (think modern computer), it was America which essentially brought them to the world.
It’s politically correct around the world to discount America — it’s too bad this concept has warped people’s view of the country. America has been a model for many of the great things of the world, starting with its Constitution. Yes, it is also a model of bad things too, and yes the roots of the US Constitution can be found in Europe and elsewhere, but it’s still America that served as the model.
Among the things in the list US contributed significantly only into computer technologies, both hardware and software. However it should not be overestimated. Actually, the most significant contribution to the world from US is the Internet.
I don’t think that it is politically correct to discount America… however if as you say it is done around the world, this is definitely something wrong with the world but not the US.
And another thing, name something that America serves a model of…
You are mixing “faith” and “religion” together. However, I deeply believe, that “religion” is a parasite living on benefits from “faith”.
Every person has a vision of the world of his own, which was noted long time ago by Socrates. Thus, every man has his own understanding of god, his faith in god, etc. However, religion tries to organize everyone’s unique understanding and bring it under the same root. Although it can be said that this is done in order to unite many people thinking the same way, the result is usually (if not always) is opposite. For instance, there several branches of Christian religion, most of which dissolve people such that they engage into conflicts with hate, violence which contradicts original postulates of Christian study. Religion even dissolves national masses, e.g. Ireland. Muslims have many conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis.
OK, I got tired to write this… so just I’ll write my thoughts shortly. I’ll give arguments and fact supporting them next time we meet on your demand :). Whatever.
1) Religion organizes faith, thus hurting every believers’ beliefs.
2) Religion (Church) is an organization whose one of main purposes is domination among other organizations.
3) Religion (church) uses peoples’ feeling and beliefs in its own benefits which is, perhaps, most unethical thing to do.
4) Imagine there’s no countries it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.
5) Why am I writing all of these s…?
6) Religion bad. Faith good. Me loves candy.
I totally agree that there is no country in the world that stairs up as much as US, and I beleive that most of the countries around the world owe a lot to the US. US was the savior for Europians in WW2 (NO one can deny this fact), Their aid and support for many countries in the third world.
I just would like to mention some facts about US:
– It has some of the best universities in the world and takes home a great majority of all Nobel prizes.
– In which other country could a former Austrian bodybuilder and action movie star become governor of the biggest state?
– US knows what service is all about. Things simply work in the US. Just compare the quality of service that you get in a diner in any place in the US to what you get in a café in Paris (especially if you don’t speak French). From renting a car to staying in a hotel, shopping and dining out, the service is simply impeccable in the US. And if it doesn’t work, you can always sue them.
Whatever you think about the US, it has world-wide influence. That’s why everybody heard of it 🙂
I think you’re confusing “faith” with “epistomology,” “philosophy,” and “point of view.” I wouldn’t equate religion with faith, but I also wouldn’t confuse faith with what you describe.
And by your logic, we could also draw the following conclusions:
1. Education good, school (especially university) bad.
2. Captialism good, corporations bad.
3. Society good, government bad.
4. Invention good, technology bad.
It’s foolish to think that without country or religion, violence will cease. Conflicts (both interpersonal and group-based) have and continue to develop around human needs and desires beyond belief and la Patrie. In fact, the institutions that song opposes inherit conflict as a trait from humanity, even from Nature.
PS – “You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one..” is a logical fallacy (argumentum ad verecundiam).
Yes, the US saved Europe in the WWII, and, along with European countries, suffered great losses. But ever thought about why?
Because without the U.S. intervention Germany would’ve grown too strong. After WW1, the U.S. had adopted isolationist and non-interventionist policies, and only joined the war when it became clear that if they remain neutral, the enemy will grow too strong for the U.S. It had very little to do with American goodwill towards European countries: Saving Europe was just a side-effect of protecting the U.S.
Well, as Clint mentioned above that it as a good thing when people feel comfortable enough to respectfully disagree. When the Germans thought that they are superpower they started crashing the world, I guess we are all agreed that today the US is the undisputed superpower of the world and they have not done 0.000000000001 of what Germany does and I bet they will never ever do such things, I think this is a simple aspect to prove the goodness and the greatness of the US.
Anyway, A superpower is rarely loved, no matter what it does.
Once again, Viva US!!!
You’re right, people are skeptical of those with power – and usually for good reason and from lots of previous experience.
I do think America is misunderstood a lot – I’ve noticed how often here in Africa people confuse American culture and American media. And unfortunately the media is a very poor reflection of the culture.
Strange as it may seem, even in the remotest parts of Africa I find American media – and usually in Chinese packaging. I wonder if the artist ever imagined in their wildest dreams their music/film/etc would be played in the contexts it is.
This weekend I was in a rural part of Uganda and someone came up to us selling pirated dvds from China which have on one dvd up to 80+ full length US movies or cds! And only for about $5 USD.
One of my friends was excited to buy one with all of the James Bond movies and other films of a similar genre.
Another guy was excited to buy one with about 40+ “adult” movies.
I often wonder about the impact on the world of the media the US creates (and now which China exports).
A quote from the superman movie: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Don’t get me wrong – I think there is a lot of great media too, but I guess I just wonder if the overall impact has been more positive or negative, and what we could do to be more responsible in helping make it more positive?
A couple of American citizens from Boston, Mass. visited Thailand and gave me scholarship for my late years in college for my Bachelor degree. They also fully financed me for the Master’s Degree. I later found out that they also supported other poor children in Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, .. Africa and also in America itself. They are now around 70 years old and they are going to visit Thailand soon. I’m looking forward to meeting them. So, I look at the American power in a positive light. Once you have enough to eat, and you share some to the poorer ones, you are great! Heaven gives you opportunity and wealth, so you can share some of them to the others. I learnt this well from those good Americans and that’s why it’s now my time to help the others. So, thank you Americans!
Some of your information is wrong. The light bulb was invented by Joseph Swan in England. The first gasoline powered car was patented in Germany by Karl Friedrich Benz. The television was invented in England by John Logie Baird. The computer was thought up by Charles Babbage in Britain and both the water tower and scones have been around since before America had even been discovered by Europeans!