Restoring Ourselves

Reconstructing America as a shining city on a hill...

When I was a kid growing up on Bermuda, a British island about 700 miles off the coast of North Carolina, there were symbols that were emblematic of America. It was a different world in the fifties and sixties than it is now. There was another view of the United States then and with the island's unique history of being British but having played some role in the American Revolution generally the British and American population got along. There were certain hallmarks that represented America for reasons that made sense at the time. Pan American Airways, American Express, the Stars and Stripes at the US Consulate and Coca-Cola. Those symbols also represented ideals that America stood for just as much as the Statue of Liberty does.

Sometimes I wonder now what the perception of our country is to the rest of the globe. My gut tells me it's McDonalds, Mickey Mouse and Reality TV shows and rampant consumerism. This is disappointing to me but not a surprise. The global view of "America as a shining city on a hill" is already tarnishing to some but not to others who want to immigrate here because they still see the gleam of American Exceptionalism. Those are people who will help us help ourselves just as immigrants have from the beginning. When I emigrated here in 1968 the country was rife with strife but that is not what I was looking for or saw. It was the chance for reinvention, opportunity to be who I wanted to be, liberate myself from the tiny limited, although paradise-like, island I came from and invigorate my life.

We are a country now of several generations that have never known a really bad time economically, socially and politically. We are not prepared for what is going to happen to us psychologically due to the disruption of our way of life. The death of consumerism, personal financial problems, troops returning from war, structural unemployment, lack of social and medical services, alcohol and drug abuse are a few things that come to mind. We are in desperate need of reconstructing ourselves. In The Sense of Beauty Santayana wrote "The only kind of reform usually possible is the kind from within; a more intimate study and intelligent use of the traditional reforms." He also noted "Nothing enhances a good so much as to make sacrifices for it." Our problems, individually and as a country will not be solved by politicians and bureaucrats in government nor medical doctors and scientists with medicinal cures. They will only be resolved by recalling our ideals and working from within ourselves and reaching outward to help each other.


  1. I think you are right on the mark with the McDonalds/Mickey Mouse/Reality TV/consumerism "scene" this country presents to foreigners. And if they find that disgusting to contemplate, then I am right there with them, wishing that America was held to a much higher standard than those things.

    The thing is: even the people who refuse to accept American exceptionalism (it's an overused term but it's the only one that fits) seem pissed that "WE" have reduced our sights to fast food and television. As bad as things can be here-personally and otherwise-the really important things are in here: hope, aspirations, goals, dreams.

    It's a helluva good place where you can sit your ass on a soda-fountain stool and become Lana Turner. And the scary part is, I could not pick Lana Turner out of a lineup. But I've heard the story a bunch of times and I remember it, and maybe I'm crazy but it seems to join with every other story I'm not thinking of and create a hope that can't possibly be resonating anywhere else. These things are beyond tribal customs or culture, or anything else. They are dreams come true. And they happen here. It seems like they always happen here. An interesting bit of coincidence to consider. :)

    I'm going to try to get an interview for a job later today. There are certain bits of it I am not qualified for, but there's more to it that I'm sure I'm perfect for. I'm going to tell the truth: most of what I know I learned from repetition and mistakes, and I am the perfect person to hire because of this. I will cite examples of success and failure. There's nothing more American than success and failure.

    When in doubt, set your sights higher.

    This is a great post, JR. I am not an immigrant, but if you tossed aside every non-American Indian in my lineage you'd be left with useless shards of English, Austrians, German Jews...the ingredients would seem very unexceptional. But these things can gather here. I can't tell you how thankful I am for that.

    I love this place.

    I'm going to leave it at that. Thanks for the post, sir.

  2. How I wish more people would write, say and think "When in doubt, set your sights higher." What a great line that so many people need to hear. I may have to steal it or remake it.

    I think a lot of Americans have just forgotten that this is a country that you can set your sights higher and reach for something better without being hampered by a lot things like class structure and lineage. Are there barriers? Yup. That is a part of life anyway, any where.

    Go for the job, think you're qualified and going to get it, you probably will. If not it's great practice for the next effort. Too many people also have forgotten how to strive and learn from it and have given up. Great comment Mike and thanks for sharing your thoughts.