July 4, 2015

Being Exceptional: Thoughts on the 4th of July

US Flag

Instead of clutching our flags and insisting - despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary - that the U.S. is "#1," I wonder what we might be able to accomplish if we decided to pursue the goal of becoming #1 at something. We don't have the best health care system in the world, but we probably could if we were willing to learn from other nations and invest in making improvements. We certainly don't have the best infrastructure or the best roads, but I bet we could if we decided to get serious about it. We're falling behind where we once were in science and technology, but we could certainly turn that around with a coordinated national effort. We could pick something and become the world leader at it. We have that potential.

When it comes to national pride, wouldn't it be great if it translated into meaningful action aimed at being the best instead of pretending that we already are the best and demonizing anyone who dares to suggest that we are imperfect? Perhaps if we learned to take pride in our accomplishments instead of where we were born, we might be more inclined to strive to accomplish something. Allowing ourselves to be convinced that we are already perfect leads to apathy. Recognizing our failings and seeking to improve is part of what a healthy sort of patriotism looks like.

Just think of all the worthwhile goals we could pursue! And consider the many benefits some would have aside from bragging rights. For example, some of them involving infrastructure (e.g., roads, telecommunications, the power grid) would improve quality of life, provide a massive boost to our economy, be great for business and investors, provide jobs, and strengthen our national security. There are parts of the U.S. where safe drinking water is not always reliable, where people are regularly without electricity due to downed power lines, where bridges are crumbling, where Internet access is unavailable, and so on. There are areas where entire neighborhoods have been abandoned and left to rot. We can do better.

If you decided you wanted to engage in some self-improvement, you'd take a good hard look at yourself, identify specific areas for improvement, turn them into measurable goals, and craft a plan for moving forward on your goals. You wouldn't try to do everything at once because you'd recognize how overwhelming that would be. You'd be selective because you would recognize that your chances of success would be far greater if you focused on a small number of areas initially. I'm not sure why a national agenda would have to be any different from this.

Best of all, we have some successful models from our past we could examine. I'd consider the space program culminating in the Apollo 11 mission and the earlier Public Works Administration projects as good places to start. We are capable of great things, and I have no doubt that we could be exceptional in the areas we decided to pursue. And if we did make significant progress toward our goals, that would be cause for real pride rather than the hollow alternative we see too much of every year around this time.
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