As much as I don’t believe in the religious concept of ‘sin’ (I think people can certainly do wrong things, but that those actions are punishable within our system of justice, rather than there being a spiritual reckoning at some point), I can see why pride is listed among them. Of course, it’s natural to be proud of a particular achievement, but pride can fog the ability to really be objective, to assess just how worthwhile a place or achievement is, in the greater scheme of things. Untempered pride can be dangerous.
What does it say, then, when someone states that his or her country is ‘the greatest in the world’? What is that supposed to mean?
For a long time, I’ve had a problem with this turn of phrase, because I feel like it doesn’t even really make sense. A country is such a blend of nations and cultures, which are often thrown together due to geographical accident, rather than ideological compatibility. Is it really the case that one country can be the greatest in the world? And if so, where does that leave the rest of the world?
This has been on my mind over the past week or so, due to the shutdown of the US government. More than any other voices, those I’ve heard most often proclaim that their country is the greatest in the world have been American. It is almost a catchphrase that every president has to use at some point or other. It’s a symptom of a dichotomous language that politicians use the world over: either/or. Either America is the greatest country, or it isn’t. Either you’re with us, or you’re against us. To assume that there are shades of grey allows for doubt to enter the picture, and then questions are raised. Questioning your country’s greatness might mean you doubt that greatness. And that doubt shows weakness.
A person can find his or her country amazing and wonderful. It’s quite possible–and quite normal–to love your own country above all others. But blind adulation and empty proclamations of greatness don’t lend themselves to a healthy relationship, because it means we overlook areas where we may not be great, but with some work, could be better. No person, nation or government is perfect. Those of us who live in a democracy should remember that our own systems are not the pinnacle of governance. We can still do better. Given the current situation, we can do a lot better.
It makes me so sad, to see dear friends of mine in the United States, having to deal with the fallout of self-centred individuals who have seen fit to bring the government to a standstill. I’m sad, because my friends deserve better.
Please don’t misunderstand me: my own country is by no means perfect. I love living where I live, but I’ll be the first to admit that we have a plethora of problems. We have our share of ignorant, xenophobic politicians, who can be downright mean, and incredibly short-sighted. Australians can be racist, intolerant and immature. We even have bumper stickers to prove it.
If any of us want to lay claim to ours being the greatest country in the world, then we need to accept the bad along with the good. We need to take ownership of our history and our indiscretions and our wrongdoings. We need to ask ourselves where we could possibly improve. We need to accept our faults. And we need to realise that just glossing over the surface and shouting to everyone how much we love our country and how great it is, is not going to make it great. Moreover, we need to realise that it’s really OK, if we’re not the best. We can surely admire other nations for their strengths, even if they have strengths that we don’t. Imagine, what an amazing place our world would be, if we could just be honest and admit that we’re not always the best. We’re not always right. Sometimes, we screw up. Sometimes, we’re childish. Sometimes, we need to say ‘sorry’, and then ask, ‘what can we do, now, to make it better?’ Only then, could we really argue that we have attained greatness.
I would love to read the news on Monday night and to find out that the US government will be resuming normal activities from that afternoon, or even from Tuesday morning. I’d like to read that the Republicans have managed to heal the fissures in their party, and that the budget will be passed. But I suppose that’s unlikely to happen. It would mean some politicians would have to stand up and tell their constituents that it’s unfair to hold the country to ransom. It would mean some politicians would have to swallow their pride. It could mean that these representatives might lose their seats, next election. Would they really be willing to do this? What is more important: individual political success, or allowing the federal government of a country of over three hundred million individuals to continue?
This shutdown will probably last another few days. Maybe a week. Maybe two weeks. And then the debt ceiling issue begins to sag above us. I don’t even want to think about the problems that might bring. I just want to hope that there will be a resolution before that. Because then it starts to really impact the rest of us… who don’t even get to vote for any of these politicians, and yet have to find ways to deal with the fallout.
Claiming your country ‘is the greatest’ effectively shuts down any kind of dialogue about how we can get along, how we can improve relations with each other. And it goes further: it sets up a comparison, insinuating that everyone else is less than best. It means you are holding yourself up as a yardstick to the rest, by which they can measure their greatness, or lack thereof, compared to yours.
So, is the United States the greatest country in the world? To those who would argue this, and especially to those who are preventing the country from moving anywhere, and who are threatening the rest of the world’s economy with their bullying tactics, and who–most importantly–are stopping their own workforce from being able to get on with doing their jobs and getting paid for them… well, to those people, I would simply shrug and say:
‘I expected better.’