What Does It Mean to Be an American Today? Angrily Oblivious

Angry man

"What does it mean to be American?" Assume that the person asking this question isn't looking for something trivial. An answer like "one who lives in the U.S." won't be satisfying. They are after something deeper, something with a bit more symbolism. Most of all, they want to know what it means to you.

What does it mean to me? Many things, some of which I've written about several times. But let's try something new. Suppose I had to limit myself to nothing longer than a two-word phrase. In two words, what does it mean to be an American? Angrily oblivious.

Anger: The National Emotion

Angry because anger is mistaken for strength. Expressing anger makes others think someone is strong and keeps them at bay. Most other emotions do the opposite. They invite others to take advantage. If you feel like crying, yell instead. They won't mistake you for weak that way.

We're angry about so many things so much of the time it is easy to lose track. You'll hear people catch themselves. "Wait, what am I supposed to be angry about now?" Yes, it is not unusual for Americans to say that out loud. What are we supposed to be angry about? It is even less common for us to pause and consider who wants to keep us so angry so much of the time.

Angry because we don't always get our way. Angry because life isn't fair but we continue to expect that it should be. Angry because someone is always trying to take our rights away. Angry because we don't want to be anybody's doormat.

Where's the Bliss?

What about the oblivious part? I'm thinking about something connected to our lack of empathy for others. But what I have in mind might be even more basic than that. We don't always recognize that the people around us have agency. We forget that they have inner lives as we do.

We're oblivious in our self-absorption. We are so self-absorbed we may forget that other people are more than background actors in our drama. We have to remind ourselves that not everything is about us, and we aren't great about doing so.

Oblivious because whatever's in front of us is more important than anything else. Oblivious to the damage our short-term approach does to future generations. Oblivious to how others perceive us since they don't count.

Too Early to Give Up Yet

I haven't given up yet. I still cling to some hope. With effort, we can overcome many of our worst tendencies. We find the effort tiring and abandon it when we can, but we are capable of doing better. We can set aside our anger and pursue understanding. We can counter obliviousness with curiosity.

Some will say that the fact that we can do this but don't often do so is enough of a reason to give up on humanity. I see where they're coming from, but I'm not there yet. I still notice the exceptions and try to celebrate them when I can. I am still trying too. I'm trying to be the sort of person I wish was more common.

America, as an idea, has somehow managed to transcend Americans. But Americans can also transcend our nature. We can be something more than angrily oblivious. With the future we are facing and the many challenges before us, now would be a good time to start.

Image by Peter Ziegler from Pixabay