The Shame of Being an American | Shining City on a Hill

I live in an amazing place. It’s an experiment that has gone mostly right. It was an idea, a dream, a cause, a revolution 200+ years ago. It’s called America.

An American Family

Today, celebrate all that is good about America, because there is so much good. (Tweet that)

Three weeks ago we celebrated the birth of a nation. We celebrated the American Dream. Most of my readers rejoiced that one giant social and government experiment actually turned out pretty well. (I say “most” because for some odd reason I am huge in Kenya…at least according to Google Analytics).

I’ve never been threatened physically.

I’ve never feared death by mortar strike.

I’ve rarely gone to bed hungry or lacked for basic needs. There was a time as a child that my single mother struggled and we didn’t have much food or heat, but that is the most extreme it has ever been for me.

Neither have most Americans. And we should be so thankful for that.

I want to remind you today to celebrate all that is good about this country, because there is so much good.

Dwell on the goodness of our nation. Dwell on the fortune and blessings of living here. Dwell on our remarkable history.

A warning

Don’t let your thankfulness drift into shame or guilt. I have seen that all too often, even with myself.

Instead, think of all the ways that you can use your citizenship here to touch the world. The world needs countries to look up to. It needs the “shining city on a hill,” and I believe that through all of our faults, mistakes, and disagreements, that we are that shining city.

Shine, nation, shine.

Have you ever felt shame for being an American? If you aren’t an American, how do you view our country?

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  • How can we be a nation that shines when we’re holding people in Guantanamo prison without trail? How can we shine when we kill innocent woman and children with drone strikes? (see http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/) As for our history, start with War is a Racket by Smedley Butler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3_EXqJ8f-0). The military industrial complex (and its NSA/CIA spying apparatus) is completely out of control. Corporations control our politics. Politicians lie to get elected and then continue the very policies they swore to stop.

    My personal comfort is not the sole indicator for determining how proud of my nation I am. I think that’s a narrow view of a larger world.

    I am ashamed of what our country is doing internationally, and I won’t let my comfort (or the mainstream media owned by a handful of companies) blind me to what’s going on. We may not have had mortar strikes on us, but our tax dollars are funding drone strikes on others. I am not OK with that.

    Matt, I know you’re a good guy with good intentions. You’re might be like me about 8 months ago. I was simply ignorant to what was going on around me. My ignorance kept me from seeing the truth I am responsible to change.

    For more of my thoughts on this, see:
    http://bestoked.blogspot.com/2013/06/were-too-busy-to-care.html
    http://bestoked.blogspot.com/2013/06/this-bothers-me.html

    • I love your passion Luke! Ever thought of running for office? (Seriously)

      I think the Paul’s, Justin Amash, and others have proved you can get elected running on principles.

  • I have a different perspective on this issue. I am in the process of applying for citizenship. The United States is the country I have chosen to raise my family and make a living. This is the country where I want to contribute my talents and skills. However, I see myself as citizen of the world. I navigate daily between my home country, Mexico, and my chosen one by the connections I have . I see good and evil in both. I see great people wanting to make a difference. I see abuse, dishonesty, corruption in both as well. As thankful as I am for the life I have, I see that nothing has come to me for free. I’ve had to work hard for it. I don’t know what it’s like to not have food on the table, or clothes to wear or shelter or transportation. But I know that is not true for the majority neither in the US or in Mexico, where poverty levels are unacceptable (46 million in the US, 46% of the population in Mexico). I can feel guilty for having the privilege of living legally in the US. I can feel guilty for the things that I have that my family and friends envy. Or I can feel empowered and encouraged to do something to make a difference.

    • Lily, I was looking forward to your perspective when I wrote the question. I love to hear an immigrant’s perspective.

      I remember the first time in life when I got picked up at the airport a few years ago. You know, with the sign with my name on it and a $50,000 SUV with cooled back seats and every newspaper imaginable…

      The driver was from Pakistan and I started peppering him with questions. Then I told him I was thankful for his coming here and doing such a great job and encouraged him. I also told him that he inspired me.

      He reminded me that with all of our faults, if we opened the gates to America, the world would literally tilt off its axis. Just sayin’

  • I’ve only ever felt ashamed when I lived abroad and saw America through expatriate eyes. And it wasn’t shame, exactly, it was just that my eyes became stripped of a layer of clouding that had been there since birth, making everything look rosy.

    It’s impossible to explain, really, to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, and to anyone who has, it doesn’t require explanation. It doesn’t diminish love of country one whit, but it makes that love more realistic. Maybe that’s the right analogy — I was infatuated with America before I left. I returned in love, knowing that lady liberty has wrinkles, cellulite, and a temper that’ll rip your head clean off if you catch her in the wrong mood.

    The biggest thing I think I lost living abroad? My sense of entitlement. I no longer think all these things that we take for granted are to be taken for granted. They’re to be cherished and protected. And shared.

    • Great points Bret! America isn’t perfect for sure, but the idea of America is pretty dang good!

      • That reminds of a quote from the end of the movie Gladiator.

        “There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized.”

        • Folks do ask if I’m related to Marcus Aurelius.. Ok not really. But I wish they did :)

    • Bret, it would be interesting to know what new things you learned about America while an expat.

      While I was in China, I realized how very very rich we are.

      • I’d say I learned that:

        * A need and a want are far more removed from each other than I used to think they were.
        * I need to approach each new situation with my mouth shut and my ears open — that’s why I have two ears and only one mouth.
        * No one cares how we do things in America.
        * Most people will be as accepting of me as I am of them, or even moreso. But they’ll wait to see me demonstrate first because American’s aren’t know for this trait.
        * Americans are loud
        * Americans are big
        * Americans always wear the most inappropriate footwear for the occasion (you can spot a Yank as the only bloke wearing joggers and white socks with shorts when he has no intention of playing sports)
        * The best way to avoid being associated with Americans who are visiting when you’re living there is to spontaneously become Canadian. Don’t kid yourself, the locals are in on the joke but they appreciate it all the same.

        Those are a few, just off the top of my head. Buy me a few beers and over an evening, I’m sure we could come up with enough to fill a small book! :-)

        • Wow Bret. That is an awesome list. I laughed out loud at a few of them!

  • I am not ashamed of America. I have been ashamed of what some people, politicians and groups have done in the name of America. But America itself is a good, noble example to the world. America is embodied in the words of the Declaration of Independance and Constitution. It’s embodied in the fact that, despite the short comings of its citizens and some of its programs, never has there been a greater force for good and freedom in the world. Thanks for this post Matt!

  • “For some reason I’m huge in Kenya” I pictured you writing that, while watching Anchorman, in a library full of many leather bound books, smelling like rich mahogany!

    • Josh I literally laughed out loud when I read your comment…then shared it with my coworker. I can see Matt saying it well!

    • I try to stay classy.

  • Katherine Leicester

    One of the ways I’m rejoicing in being an American is being courageous. America is the land of the free and the home of the BRAVE.

  • I am so very grateful for clean drinking water, (mostly) non-corrupt law enforcement officials, a political system that makes peaceful transitions from administration to administration, the freedom to worship and speak out about faith, abundant supplies of food, (mostly) reliable electricity and phone services (they both get sketchy in our rural area at times), the ability to choose one’s own career, and an incredible huge array of products and services available.

    When people riot after a sports event or I see so-called poverty that includes cell phones and HD tvs and fast food or I read that more Americans are unhappy than any other nation, or see all the mentally ill and drug ruined homeless folks or hear from someone with an entitlement mentality – that’s when I get squirmy being an American.

    Squirmy, yes, but ashamed, never!

  • Thanks for the reminder of the blessings we have of being in America. We take them for granted too many times. We get selfish and only worry about our little circles.

  • Our loyalty must first be to God. It seems Americans get their loyalties all mixed up. When we put God first, the rest will fall into place.

    • Above the Red Sox? C’mon Jon. :-)

      Great point!

      • Red Sox?

        Let’s Go Phillies!!!

        • Baseball??? Who watches baseball???

          • Only the playoffs or in person. There is no crying in baseball after all.

          • haha. I opt for never. baseball bores me to tears :)

          • I guess there are no decent baseball teams in the northwest.

          • I was surprised to hear they even know what it is up there. @marksieverkropp:disqus

          • Good point. I’m guessing the favorite sport in that part of the country is dodging raindrops and listening to Nirvana.

          • First off, Matt you’re right. It’s amazing Mariner’s fans even admit they HAVE a baseball team. They should watch the GOOD Seattle team, the Sounders.
            Second, Jon. Wrong side of the mountains :) I live in a semi-arid desert. We celebrate the sparse rain we get…and it’s pretty much farmers and ranchers, so not much Nirvana (at least not for me or my circles!) :)

          • Farmers and sparse rain in a semi-arid desert? Doesn’t sound like the population is the smartest. :) Or maybe they are the smart ones who can figure out how to grow things in the desert.