Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Roar

Well, today I am roaring about a subject other than beauty that gets my blood pumpin.  I wrote this a couple weeks ago, and I think it is time to share. I believe this is a very serious problem in America, so I wrote it as my final paper for my American Heritage class.  I would love to hear your commentary.

Originally, I chose to focus this paper on the issues surrounding the American Healthcare reform, but this morning after stumbling upon an article on the CNN website, my mind was quickly changed. Rather than writing about healthcare, I would like to write about a problem that is, in my opinion, more threatening to American freedom than the issues of healthcare reform, or even gun control that are so heavily talked about as of late. Interestingly enough, it is an issue that I dare say most Americans are completely unaware of. I understand my boldness in bringing up this issue and that some Americans will be angered with my concerns. However, I feel this issue to be very important to be aware of and understood for all people, from all nations of the world. 

I have lived in the USA since 2007 and although I became keenly aware of this issue shortly after my arrival, I learned just as quickly that it is not something that is safe to talk about. This has upset me, particularly when America prides itself on freedom of speech. The harsh reality is that you are free to speak your opinion, but not without consequence. We see in the lives of Martin Luther King, an activist of the African- American civil rights movement; John F Kennedy, an American president; and Joseph Smith, the first Latter Day prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that freedom of speech and religion does not come without a price. All of these leaders were murdered in innocence in their own land for what they believed and stood for. 

I believe very strongly in what I am about to say, and have learned that it usually goes over poorly when I share my views with my American friends or even family. As a result, I have tried to remain quiet in an effort to not offend, but last night at my graduation commencement at Brigham Young University, one of the speakers challenged us to “be the change that you want to see in the world”. I believe that in writing this I am making my first attempt to make a change in wonderful country who is perhaps unaware of a weakness they have that could ultimately lead to its downfall. 

You may be wondering what CNN article would prompt me to finally speak up on this issue. It was an article on an Mexican- American athlete who after winning silver in the 1500 m track and field event at the 2012 Olympics in London, celebrated by waving the American Flag and the Mexican flag simultaneously. This CNN columnist, Ruben Navarette, was outraged at this act and shared his reasons for feeling so in his article, “U.S. Olympic athlete, Mexican flag?”, Aug 10, 2012. 

Navarette felt that Leo Manzano, the first american man to be on the Olympic podium for this event in 44 years, was egotistical in celebrating his victory as an individual and that his duty was to only represent the United States olympic team. Manzano, a man with citizenship in both Mexico and USA chose to celebrate his victory by waving the flags of the two countries that he loves, his home land and his adopted country. If he had only waved the Mexican flag, I could see why that would be a problem, but he waved both for indeed he represented both: he represented USA, by the jersey he chose to wear, and Mexico by the color of his skin and the language he speaks. Furthermore, being an immigrant myself, I feel that I understand this man. Just because America has adopted an individual does not mean that he must erase the love that he has in his heart for his native land in order to be true to America. 

This article was a good example of the fruits that come from the exclusive and elitest attitude of many Americans. I will never say all Americans, for this would not be true. I have met some Americans who are willing to listen to what I have to say and they do so with respect, interest and a genuine concern for the danger that these attitudes presents to the American people. However, the majority of my experience expressing my concerns, has left me feeling like a terrorist or that I will be blacklisted for being a communist. Hence why I have kept my concerns quiet for so long. 

So, what is the issue here exactly? The issue is the attitude of excessive pride that exists here. I am not talking about the type of pride you feel when your child takes his first steps or when you take a look at all of your grandchildren. I am talking about the pride that is comparative in nature. The “we are better than” and “you want to be us” attitude. 

I must admit, that I was very unaware of how strong this pride was until I moved here in 2007. Both my bother and sister lived in the USA serving missions for the LDS church, and I was sure when they came home that they would have fallen in love with the country they served in as most missionaries do. They were excited to go, unaware of what they would really be facing. Although both of my siblings loved the people they served, they share the same firm resolve to never live here again. This may be shocking for some Americans to hear, for it is quite opposite of what both the school system and the media teaches the young here both directly and indirectly. Directly Americans are taught that this is the greatest nation on the earth and the “American dream” is something that the rest of the world holds dear. Indirectly, other countries are not given a fair light and their differences are not taught or seen as strengths. 

To be honest, I had no idea what the American dream was until I got here. I was out for dinner with some friends and they asked me “Well, haven't you always wanted to be an American?” To be honest, I thought they were joking and so I laughed. They did not think that was funny. When I said an affirmative no, their jaws literally dropped and there was a moment of silence before one of them pleaded, “but it is the American dream?” To be honest, I had no idea what that meant. 

After doing 3 years of school here, I took a year off and went back home to Canada. I debating to never return because it made me cry and have anxiety to even think that I would have to come back and live here for one more year in order to graduate. To make a long story short, I fell in love with on my friends who still lived in America and I moved back for Him. Contemplating marriage was a scary thing for me for I knew it would most likely mean that I was here for good, but ultimately I decided that I loved Him more than I disliked living here. In sharing my concerns with him, I told him how hard it was that Americans think they are the greatest country in the world and they often put down other countries or compare themselves in order to make USA seem better. At first he disagreed with me and did not think that American did that. However, because I voiced my concerns his ears became more alert and now he knows exactly what I speak of. Three times in the past month I have heard Americans say “we are the greatest nation in the world.” The first was during a prayer to open the Spanish Fork Rodeo. The speaker literally thanked God for them being the greatest nation in the world. I must admit I opened my eyes in disgust hoping that someone else would have found that absurd, but I did not see a single person flinch. The second was by Barack Obama, the president himself. Finally, I heard an American Athlete say it on a commercial for the Olympics. Even if one had lived in every nation on this earth for long enough to get the big picture and truly understand the people, their values and heritage, I would not support their declaration of one country being greater than the other. The reality is that many Americans do not know much about the world, and so there is no real substance to such as statement of being the greatest country in the world. I talked with my friend from Scotland yesterday and she was asked by one of her University classmates where she learned to speak such great english. My other friend from Germany was also asked by a friend if they have cars in Germany. Cars? Germany? Really? Similarly my mother was asked by an american mother if we have microwaves in Canada. This is all very sad. Somewhere, somehow, the great people who live on this land are being uneducated or miseducated on the realities of this world and America’s place in it. 

The indirect portrayal of USA as the greatest nation in the world, is perhaps more prevalent but less obvious to detect. The media’s portrayal of the Olympics is a prime example. I have watched a fair amount of the 2012 olympic games here, and I was absolutely shocked at the end of the day to see how many medals China had. China and USA are what you can call neck and neck in the overall medal standings, but I am yet to see on television a chinese person win a medal or stand on the podium or hear their national anthem with pride. Another subtle but powerful way that American adopt this “we are the best” attitude comes from the angle of delivery that facts are taught in school. I have a difficult time in school here because the focus in school is to teach the students what to think, rather than how to think. I understand that it is difficult to teach history without a bias, but I feel that America could do a better job. In my opinion students should be taught the facts with the least amount of bias possible and allow them to form their own opinions. 

All of this is very alarming to me for I feel that this “we are the greatest” attitude puts America in great danger. In Canada we often hear of Americans who travel with Canada stickers or patches on their backpacks. They do this in order to avoid on the Anti-American resentment that is often encountered in many countries. This Anti-Americanism frightens me, and is one of the big reasons why I don’t want to live here. The reality is, however, that I do live here, and I have chosen to do so knowing that much of the world does not like the USA. Instead of running away from the issue I choosing to face it by “being the change that I want to see in the world”. It is important for Americans to understand that countries of the world do not feel warm loving sentiments towards America when Americans consider themselves better or feel it is their God given duty to pressure them to be more like America. This attitude will create enemies even in ones personal life such as interpersonal relationships at school or at work. Would you want to be friends with someone who thought they were better than you? The relationships between nations is no different. 

What makes one country better than another anyway? The problem is that what America values most is not necessarily what other countries value and that is hard for Americans to understand. For example, Canada has been made fun of for the size of our military. This is not necessary, for if it was our priority to prepare for and declare wars, be would probably put our tax money into the military too. According to Wikipedia’s report on the nations military expenditures, the USA spends 711 billion dollars yearly on the military. China spends the next highest, but not even come close to the USA spending only 228 billion each year. If a countries greatness is based on the money it spends preparing for war, then I guess USA is better than Canada and every other country in the world, winning by a long stretch. 

This is all very alarming to me that although USA is a leader in business, the military, research, and sports these areas are not what many countries chose to invest their time, means and energy into. A country may be poor monetarily but have rich communities who take care of each other and who value people more than money and things. It is frustrating to see a country that is highly materialistic, and often unsatisfied claim themselves better than another because of money, education and status. 

Then to make matters worse, they feel the responsibility to pressure other countries to adopt their value system. In fact, I was asked by my university on a final exam to respond in long answer as to how we could convince the eastern muslims to become more westernized. I don’t think I got a good grade on that question, because frankly, I did not respond to the question. I criticized the question instead and suggested that before we go start trying to change the middle east we should first focus on ourselves and our problems. In my opinion the middle east will always resists the western world if we continue to flaunt our women around in magazine and on the internet with nil to no clothing on or glamorize marital infidelity on television and in hollywood. We judge them harshly for executing or stoning a woman who is guilty of adultery and yet in American we kill thousands of innocent babies ever day, many for mere convenience. 

As a Christian who lives in a country founded upon Christianity I think it is imperative that the world stops competing as nations, and starts to work together as people. We are all God’s children. We are all equal in worth and so are the nations that we live on. We are all needed in this world, both nations and people. I believe that God was involved in creating and supports the American constitution and that America has many strengths that the world has and does look up to. I also believe that God was and is involved in the creation of every nation and people and that every nation and people has strengths that the world should look up to and seek to emulate. Our responsibility as citizens, not of our nations, but as brothers and sisters in this world is to learn about each other, try to understand each other and respect each other for our differences instead of using them as a means to prop ourselves up on the idolist and fictitious greatness scale. Democracy, is not God’s way and communism or socialism is not Satan’s way. Throughout God’s Holy Scriptures we see records of God’s people in various types of government. I believe God cares less about the type of government, economy or religion that a country chooses to follow and more about the happiness and moral standing of his children. It is true, that a democracy does a better job of preserving freedom because its fate lies on the will of all people as opposed to just one, but I would rather live in a country with a righteous king that welcomes me into his country as a equal than a democratic country whose people see me as less than. I am trying to practice what I preach and learn to truly love America. I am doing this by trying to understand these people and why they act and think the way they do. I feel that the hearts and intents of Americans are good. Therefore, I hope that in writing this they may become more aware of what their comparative attitude is doing to the hearts of their brothers and sisters in the world who truly love their own countries and their own ways of life. 

In conclusion, the color of our skin, the way we talk, what we choose to eat or do with our spare time are only outward symbols of what a people really are. It can be hard to understand the why of other nations because all we see is the outward symbols of their values and more often than not, they differ from our own. Americans would be wise to give more credit to other nations in the world and look to them as a guide to find solutions to their own issues such as education, health care, or reinstating family values. Most importantly it is imperative that Americans recognize that each country has different strengths and weaknesses and that no country is or ever will be better than another. In doing so, the consequences that would follow are renewed national strength and hope in solving the issues we face today, it would also help other countries to feel more needed and important as they are encouraged to play a more significant role in improving our world even though it is not monetarily. Lastly, it would improve the sentiments that people of the world feel towards America, preventing future terrorist attacks and even wars. This is my plea, hate me or love me for sharing, but time is precious and I could not remain silent any longer.