Profile of America

I can tell you now, there will be few and far posts written on this blog about politics.  It’s typically not my cup of tea.  I am not a historian, a Poli-Sci expert, a sociologist or psychologist.  I’m just a little ol’ American girl with a few things to say.

But, I’ve had this rant building inside me for a a few months…maybe even a few years…that seems to be wanting to make it’s way out into the big, bad world.  I may be risking attention from the FBI, or some other George W. Bush cronies with the following thoughts and statements…but, it’s a free country, right?

AMERICA:  The Land of Opportunity.  The Land of Abundance.  The Land of Milk and Honey.
(Well, less and less honey as more honey bee colonies die off from Colony Collapse Disorder.)  But, what of all this abundance and opportunity?

Opportunity. It is a great thing.  When pure and unadulterated, It means women can have careers, minorities can have equality, people can start their own businesses, families can own homes, children can receive educations, hungry people can eat…but you know what?  The opportunities and abundance that we Americans like to boast of to anyone and everyone who MIGHT be listening have been so exhausted, prostituted, mis-used, taken for granted, stolen, and flaunted…that the idea of opportunity and abundance is now becoming, for many, a myth or a distant memory, or at the very least, a distorted version of the truth.

Why am I contemplating all this?  The up-coming election, sure.  The stump speeches and newspaper articles and NPR stories.  The recent Democratic and Republican party conventions and the hype about party ticket running mates.  But it is so much more.

Last night, on our local NPR station, while driving to my daughter’s school for “Meet the New Principal” night, I listened to a show called Home Ground with show host, Brian Kahn.  He was discussing Montana’s Food Bank system with two women who work for the very same entity.  I found myself pulled over on the side of the road, madly scribbling down notes on the statistics these women were sharing with Kahn, and his listeners.

Here in Montana, with a population a little over 900,000 (that’s right folks.  We haven’t even broken the 1million mark yet) nearly TEN PERCENT of our state’s population remains reliant on food pantries to feed their families.  Why? Kahn asked.  “Wages,” one of his show guests answered.  Montana is 49th in the nation for wage ranking.  People here don’t make enough money for the work they do.  Even when they’re working two jobs.  With the national poverty level defined as earning less than $20,000/year per family…and requirement on food pantries estimated to be at an annual income of under $38,500/year for a four person family…nearly ten percent of Montanans are in that range, which means nearly ten percent of us are closing in on poverty level.  In one of the most magnificent parts of The Land of Milk and Honey.

One of the women Kahn interviewed went on to discuss how she was raised in a “typical middle class family” and that, years later, she discovered her parents received food from a local food pantry…but had covered up that fact from their children.  Kahn zeroed in on that comment–raising the issue of, ‘why do we feel we HAVE to cover up our need for help?  Our reliance on social assistance programs?  Why must we strive to outwardly show a higher level of financial stability than is perhaps our true reality?

And that’s when I really started thinking:  He is absolutely right; in our egotistical, narcissistic, “our shit don’t stink, and we are better than you” collective American attitude, we are trained from an early age that abundance is better than wanton.  More is better than less.  Waste is ok, as long as you don’t have to look at it.  Outward signs of wealth are important and, in fact, required for belonging to the greater fold.  The more bling the better.  And, as this American psyche has continued to develop, our culture has caused the unfolding of phenomena such as: “purchasing” houses we can’t afford, buying clothes and cars and toys and electrical equipment and shoes and make-up and clothing, gadgets and gizmo’s, furniture  and accessories  that we neither NEED nor ought to be placing on the maxed-out credit cards we really shouldn’t be carrying.   We have replaced the definition for “want”  with the the definition for “need.”

We have destroyed huge percentages of the natural abundance the land contained within our borders once offered through deforestation, drilling, laying down asphalt and pavement, and over-farming the land.  We have altered the once-abundant clean air around us by factories spewing out poisonous fumes, all in the name of making so much of the STUFF we don’t NEED.  But we have convinced ourselves that we DO NEED that stuff, because we have now forgotten how we exchanged those definitions of want and need for each other.

We have become an entitled nation–believing STUFF, and a favorable world-wide reputation, and recognition for our collective intelligence and skill and capabilities are OWED to us.  We have forgotten how to EARN these things.  We have come to believe we can BUY virtually anything…including respect and dignity and grace and friends.

We throw birthday parties for two-year-olds that cost more money than some families in other parts of the world will earn in an entire year.   We complain about the quality of our public school lunch programs when orphaned children in places like Darfor and Sudan are starving to death.  We complain about the (idiotic) No Child Left Behind act when we ought to be feeling grateful that our children are being educated at all–and that our daughters are welcome to attend school, rather than having to sneak into a neighbor’s home for lessons that would threaten their very lives, if discovered by reigning war lords and mercenaries.

America:  it IS The Land of opportunity.  The Land of Abundance.  Anybody who has immigrated here from a significantly less fortunate society will tell you this.  But, as an indigenous culture, we’ve let it get to our heads.  Too many of us have stopped (or never started) being thankful for it…and have come to believe that our good fortune in living here is a matter of entitlement…not a matter of good fortune that ought to be appreciated daily, and exercised judiciously.  We have inflated the American dream so drastically that, as a nation, we are leaving in the dust thousands of our own co-horts in the name of chasing a false pretense of a dream.  And those left in the dust are made to feel that they must hide, cover up or deny their less-than-privileged status in the name of stoicism and ‘just wanting to belong.’

As Americans, I’d like to think we can do better.  I’d like to think we can apply a little of that drive and persistence we are globally known for, and redirect it toward taking better care of the greater fold, the land, and the germane abundance that surrounds us.  I’d like to think we can get back to a place of satisfaction with the simple, and rejection of the superfluous.

I never thought I’d be willing to publicly say this, but I’m becoming down-right embarrassed to call myself and American after what I’ve seen our government, and our general population become.  But I know there are others out there–others who are most likely a part of my own generation–that must harbor some similar thoughts and feelings.  And I’m wondering what those similarities sound like.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Profile of America

  1. Pingback: New Gadgets | Profile of America

  2. “As Americans, I’d like to think we can do better. I’d like to think we can apply a little of that drive and persistence we are globally known for, and redirect it toward taking better care of the greater fold, the land, and the germane abundance that surrounds us. I’d like to think we can get back to a place of satisfaction with the simple, and rejection of the superfluous.”

    Well said, and I couldn’t agree more.

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  4. Cheryl Peterson

    I don’t think we can do better. This is us for better or worse. Those who are embarassed to be Americans can leave anytime. The door is open and frankly we are a little over crowded now so moving to another country would sure help. You forget that what one person considers superfluous another considers a need. You can only speak for yourself not others and should stick to that.

  5. To Cheryl Peterson, I suggest:

    You really don’t think we can do better, and that “This is us, for better or worse.”? What if we had said that back before women were given the right to vote, or black Americans were granted the same civil rights as every other American? What if we said we couldn’t do better when thousands of Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in internment camps following the Pearl Harbor incident? What if we claimed, ‘this is us, for better or worse’ following Hurricane Katrina when the federal government sorrowfully and insufficiently assisted in the evacuation and recovery efforts during the largest natural disaster in our nations’ history? We can ALWAYS do better.

    Considering we are the greatest super power (even if struggling to maintain that notoriety, and yet still abominably egotistical for having maintained the title for so long) across the globe, we have an OBLIGATION to continue to strive for ‘better.’ Whether good or bad, we, as Americans, set examples. Why shouldn’t we strive to make them good ones?

    To say, ‘the door is open’, thereby suggesting anyone who desires to work for a better cultural milieu in this country ought to high-tail it out of here for their dissatisfaction with the way things are is short-sighted, passive, and dissappointing, to say the least. If it weren’t for the few folks in this country who always HAVE cared about making this country a better place, the advantages, abundance and opportunities that ARE NOT superfluous would be null and void.

  6. Cheryl Peterson

    I was addressing this paragraph..
    “And that’s when I really started thinking: He is absolutely right; in our egotistical, narcissistic, “our shit don’t stink, and we are better than you” collective American attitude, we are trained from an early age that abundance is better than wanton. More is better than less. Waste is ok, as long as you don’t have to look at it. Outward signs of wealth are important and, in fact, required for belonging to the greater fold. The more bling the better. And, as this American psyche has continued to develop, our culture has caused the unfolding of phenomena such as: “purchasing” houses we can’t afford, buying clothes and cars and toys and electrical equipment and shoes and make-up and clothing, gadgets and gizmo’s, furniture and accessories that we neither NEED nor ought to be placing on the maxed-out credit cards we really shouldn’t be carrying. We have replaced the definition for “want” with the the definition for “need.”

    This is about greed, not blacks, asians or women. Greed is good. This is who we are as a people and it is the best we can do. We are consumers. We are have and have nots. Only the have nots whine about greed, spending, and stuff. Us “haves” are quite happy, thank you. (Not an attack on you, just my opinion.) Thank you.

  7. Hhhmmm, interesting perspective, Cheryl.

    Still, and speaking from the position of a person who certainly does fit into the “haves” group, I continue to assert that overt greed, and chasing after that which we, as individuals, and as a culture at large, certainly don’t need, is not healthy. Greed breeds greed. And what does greed breed? Jealousy, discontent and on-going disatissfaction with one’s present circumstances. I can only imagine what a woman, or individual, for that matter, who lives in war torn south Africa, or an impoverished segement of the middle east or Asia would say upon reading this conversation. People living in those realms have an entirely different experience with the concepts of “want” and “need.” And while I am, admittedly, comparing apples to…not even oranges but, let’s say, car tires or chicken coops, the basic message is the same: we, as Americans, need to re-look at what abundance and opportunity is, and/or should be, in comparison to how the rest of the world perceives and experiences these things. I think a reality check once in a while can do us all a bit of good.

  8. Excellent piece! I found you through Writer Dad’s comments section. Over consumption is something I’ve written about for the newspaper I once worked at. I too, was inspired by the Story of Stuff and also the documentary “Maxed Out.”

    I found your post very inspirational. We CAN do better. We NEED to do better. The complacent among us are part of the problem whether they know it or not.

    It’s a shame that this type of conversation inspires someone to suggest that you leave the country if you don’t like the way America is. This type of black and white “love it or leave it” attitude is as much a part of the problem as anything. I counter that there is another option – if you don’t like the country you live in, change it. Last I heard this is still a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

    And to Cheryl’s notion that “Greed is good”, I believe an example of her kind of thinking can be seen playing out on Wall Street and the credit markets right now. Tell those that lost their pensions, their 401k’s, their life savings due to the actions of the greedy that GREED IS GOOD. Tell the people who lose their jobs in both the private and public sectors through no fault of their own that GREED IS GOOD. I’m sure it will be of great comfort to them as they struggle to keep their homes and family fed.

    To anyone arrogant enough to suggest that the only ones complaining are the “have nots”, I would counter that it is all to easy for a “have” to become a “have not” in today’s society. When one part of the economy falters, it has a ripple effect to businesses across the board. It happens to good, hard working people. Maybe it will even happen to you. I would hope if it does, you find someone with a bit more compassionate than yourself to assist you in such time.

  9. Have you been reading my email? LOL, I completely agree with you and applaud you for having the courage to post it.

  10. @ Blogger Dad: Thank you for your very thoughtful and well said comments. I have read your work via Writer Dad as well, and am glad to connect with more and more people, if even through virtual spaces, who are like-minded and sensitive to the greater picture.

    @ Jamie: Nope. Haven’t been reading your email…but I sure will check out your blog!
    Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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