Sunday, October 16, 2011

Losing Our Essential Quality

Character - The one thing in this world that we have absolute control over. It is the essence of who we are and the only criteria by which we will ultimately be measured. You can not hide from it, turn it off, or reason with it. It is cumulative, taking in all of our actions, thoughts, and beliefs. It has nothing to do with race, religion, gender, or income. It is simply how we choose to live our lives. Every decision impacts it and nothing gets past it. It is what sets each of us apart, as it is what defines us. It is the reason we react differently to events in our lives, and that which differentiates us as individuals. The single greatest threat to our nation is not terrorism, poverty, the lagging economy, or our out of control government, it is the loss of our national character.

Right now as a collective society our character is lacking. We buy things regardless of our ability to pay for them, we elect politicians based upon party affiliation and empty promises, we have allowed the erosion of the family unit, we are unhealthy and overweight, and we have taken to excuses and blame in reaction to our country's current economic woes. Personal responsibility has fallen out of favor. We are becoming a lazy society with an unprecedented sense of entitlement that is fully willing to take credit for success, but rarely willing to take responsibility for failure. When we fail to take responsibility for ourselves, we cede a measure of control over our lives by sacrificing the freedom of self-determination in exchange for the opportunity to claim the role of victim. The 2008 election was the ultimate illustration of this.

I am very proud of being an American with a deep love of my country. We are without a doubt still the most amazing nation on the planet. We are not just a superpower, but a superhero. This means we are not only the most influential and powerful, but also the most hated and envied. We are always the first to offer help during crisis and always the first to be bashed when we must do what others will not. We are endowed with the responsibility of being the defenders of freedom and democracy. This is our burden as the originators of these two concepts in the modern world. And while we are still the greatest, we are very much in trouble.

We are all created equal, but from then on the direction our value takes is in our own hands, determined solely by the life choices we make. Unfortunately we do not all start from stable, supportive, loving, and safe beginnings. Life is not always fair. This is beyond our control, but how we deal with our situation and the drive we have to achieve our desired end state is what separates success from failure. It is not only a core belief of this country, but a fact that has been proven through many stories of perseverance. How we begin life does not determine the quality of the life we will live. Success and happiness is not only a prize attainable by those born to privilege. Destiny is the product of character because it is not something that is preordained, it is the result of a lifetime of decisions and actions.

It takes but a precious moment to lose what takes a very long time to build. We as a country have been blessed for so long that we do not know what it is like not to be. We do not have the motivation of knowing what it is like not to be the most privileged nation on the planet. Those that endured that fight for us are long gone, and are no doubt very troubled by our lack of appreciation for the sacrifices they bore to give us such a magnificent gift. History is not currently an in vogue subject, and while subjects such as math, science and language arts are important, so is our past. As George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.”

Looking back through history, a trend becomes very apparent - every great civilization falls. Whether it ceases to exist, is absorbed by another, or simply falls into the ranks of anonymity. The cause of the decline is the same every time - the civilization loses that essential quality that allowed it to attain a position of prominence. This is the descent our country is currently facing. We are a nation founded and built upon the ideals of personal responsibility, self-determination, and individual worth. A person through their own actions determines their lot in life. It was the promise of opportunity and self-determination that drew so many here and continues to do so today. This dream still exists, but somewhere along the way, the promise of opportunity was replaced by a belief that success and prosperity were no longer things to be earned, but were simply owed. We have conveniently forgotten that a climb is necessary to get to the top of anything. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu

We have lost our way and at the same time that which defined us - our national character. What made us great was that we not only conceived fantastic dreams, but that we were willing to put in the time and effort necessary to achieve them. As President John F. Kennedy said, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” We fostered a core belief that the key to attaining greatness is understanding that diligence and perseverance are the foundation of true achievement. This is the cornerstone that allowed us to attain our independence and then fueled our meteoric rise from a collection of colonies to global superpower. By embracing the belief that our destiny is limited only by our vision, and our effort to achieve, an attitude that anything is possible evolved and awe inspiring accomplishments followed. The indomitable American Spirit was born. A force susceptible to defeat only when the American people fail to take responsibility for their own lives, when we allow the erosion of our national character.