Listening to talk radio today or watching your favorite TV talking head you might be inclined to believe that the demise of America is at hand and is the fault of that “other” political party. Honestly, as much as I don’t like what either political party is doing, I don’t believe that America’s demise will be because of the “other” party or those who adhere to its principles.
I am conservative. The Republicans may have never become the party of true conservatism but they are a tad closer than the Democrats. The Republicans at least speak the language. But Democrats aren’t what’s wrong with America. I can deal with Democrats. At least they’re engaged in the process and have something they believe in. As much as I might disagree with his or her values, I can engage in a dialog with anyone who is informed and participatory.
No, the real villain is the uninvolved, uninformed American who drove to work on Nov 4, of last fall and said, “Mmm? There’s an awful long line at library. Must be a new Harry Potter book just come out.”
But it’s more than involvement that makes this country strong. It’s ambition. I had the good fortune to see a fair part of the world on Uncle Sam’s dime and one generalization remains with me. Americans know ambition. Ambition is what makes us the greatest nation on earth. We WANT to be the best (the fact that we have the resources to be the best is an article for another day).
I went car shopping Friday afternoon. The salesman was a young man, let’s call him Nassir (that’ll make his parents happy because that’s his name). Nassir is from Afghanistan by way of Germany and Holland (let’s call it Holland since The Netherlands takes longer to type). I asked him about his time in Europe. He was effusive in his praise of the people and his education; but that begat the question, “Why, my friend, venture westward to our fair colonies?”
His answer was, “I have ambition.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
People around the world want to come to America to satisfy their ambition. Ambition remains the driver behind our immigration issues.
What we don’t do as well is “contentment.” Let’s give credit where credit is due: the Europeans seem to do contentment better. For Pete’s sake, Spain built their entire daily schedule around a nap. THAT’S a contented people.
I remember watching the 2004 Summer Olympics from Athens. Each night, long past midnight, the Greeks were out with friends, socializing and enjoying the festivities. A reporter asked if this was just because of the Olympics and the revelers said, alas, “No. We do this all the time.” Our savvy journalist, doing as she was taught, had a follow up question: “Don’t you have jobs to get to in the morning.” Their response was “We’ll get there when we get there.”
These are not the responses of a driven-people. But it does seem like a nice way to go through life.
That’s the American dilemma. We’re the best because it important to us to succeed and achieve, but it comes at a cost.
And so I wonder about a new trend in American business. Business Week recently had an article titled A SANER WORKPLACE (June 1, 2009). The article is an excerpt from a new book, Womenomics: Write Your Own Rules for Success. From the book we find that:
-Half of American workers want fewer hours
-Half of us would change our schedules
-More than half would trade money for a day off
-Three quarters of us want flexible work options.
The book goes on.
“More and more workers of both sexes are willing to scale back career goals, according to Families and Work Institute data. “Reduced aspirations do not mean employees are not talented or good at what they do,” explains Lois Backon, a vice-president at the Institute. “Most do want to feel engaged by their jobs. But in focus groups they also say things like ‘I need to make these choices because my family is a priority’ or ‘I need to make these choices to make my life work.”
As it turns out these trends are good for the bottom line. But are they good for America? I have serious concerns that the trends brought to light in this book are an impediment to maintaining American Exceptionalism. Therapists and social anthropologists are likely to tell us that a laissez-faire corporate culture is good for our shareholders, our health and our overall sense of well-being.
I have no doubt we would probably be happier people. But would we better off?
In the end it may not be those misguided souls from the “other” party that are the catalyst for a decline in American Exceptionalism. It may be folks who take to heart Jefferson’s “pursuit of Happiness.”