What are the qualities we admire most as a nation?
Granted, we are an amalgamation of disparate cultures, ideologies, heritages, and motivations. But underlying all these variations—are there unifying traits that are common to all of us?
Maybe not even just us as Americans, but as humans as a whole? The Ancient Greeks believed that the governor of a Nation-State embodied the current ideologies of the people, and that, indeed, the health of the ruler was a direct reflection on the health of a nation. Sound body and mind of the man or woman in charge equated with a sound government and populous.
So what are these underlying principles we all admire?
For myself, I’d argue for: compassion, integrity, honesty, strength, power, kindness, resourcefulness, keenness of insight, and self-evaluation as principle signifiers of our highest qualities.
Compassion is a quality we all marvel at as human beings. When a mother gorilla finds an abandoned human child and cares for it as her own we applaud. We cherish the benevolence towards others that we see exemplified in Eastern and Christian saints—the do-goodership promoted by various charitable institutions and organizations—as well as individual efforts to better the lives of one’s fellow men. When someone is solely dedicated to their own betterment we describe them as “self-serving” or “egomaniacs.” Those cherished individuals who dedicate themselves to something greater are lauded as paragons of human virtue. Helping our brethren is of supreme importance.
Integrity is a quality of equal importance. If we ask our neighbor to take care of a task for us while we are away traveling, can we rest comfortably, knowing with assurance that our task will be completed before our return? Will someone be there when the “going gets tough?” Will our safety nets endure? Having that complete faith is something we ask of our life partners, our parents, and indeed all the most important relationships in our lives. To be able to trust someone fully is the foundation on which a stable, secure connection can be built with other individuals.
Tied in with integrity is honesty. Can we be certain that what we are absorbing from those around us is accurate and relatively unfiltered? When we ask a question, can we get a truthful response? Who would want to remain in any kind of partnership where one had to continuously evaluate whether or not to accept facts as presented are transparent representations of given circumstances? To be honest with ourselves and others is a supreme quality. It was said that Mohandas Gandhi was so truthful in every aspect in his life, that others were incapable of telling a falsehood around him.
Strength is a quality vastly misunderstood in America; it’s often equated with the bastardized version of masculine energy depicted in action movies and sports leagues. We equate strength with guns, steel, fortresses, brutalism, and domination. But what is the greatest kind of strength? It is a strength within one’s self. The ability to do whatever one needs to do, despite the costs. The willingness to forgo immediate pleasure in order to sustain long-term satisfaction. It is the starving mother choosing to feed her infant instead of herself. It is the person with discipline, accepting hardship as a friend, without grimacing or avoidance. It is the willingness to endure—despite opposition—without boasting, bragging, or deferment. In America, we see strength as this hyper-macho swagger, when, in fact, it is this quiet self-control that is rarely glorious or cinematic. It is lasting and still.
Similar to strength is power. Again, it is not tied in with the domination of others, as much as popular culture likes to purport it as such. Instead, it is the ability to effect change. Once strength is attained, and it has been refined through stillness and drawing in of one’s resources, power gathers. It’s using the discipline learned to make positive effects in the world. We see Eastern gods—as well as Judeo-Christian divinity—as representations of pure power. These benevolent forces are often unmoving and unseen, but when they choose to interact with human lives, it is in sweeping change for the betterment of all. Power comes from the self-aware knowing of one’s strength, and the discretion to know when and how to act; when it is required, and seldom at that. It is the thunderbolt on a quietly storming night.
Kindness is not a quality to be undervalued. It is the neighbor who remembers the ailing woman across the fence and brings her cake and a helping hand. It is the schoolteacher again and again gently guiding the pupil back to the clearest solution, regardless of how many repetitions are required to make the path tangible. As Americans, we frequently confuse kindness with weakness. That someone who is kind is only pandering, or even begging for approval and acceptance. Indeed, this is a falsehood. Kindness takes tremendous strength—to do what’s right, despite personal costs. To take extra effort to show someone that they are cared for is an act of generosity and humanity. It is one of the most important aspects that make us human. Animals on a hunt have no concept of kindness to be shown to prey they are stalking. A hyena knows not how to be kind to her packmate. It is one of the most profound gifts we have and it has an enormous impact on those around us. Little gestures of thoughtfulness and generosity are often remembered fondly years later. We all remember the friend who helped ease our dying grandfather’s last days. These acts burnish our memories.
We are a nation founded by miscreants, deviants, and individuals struggling hard to get by. When life gives tremendously challenging circumstances to endure, a level of resourcefulness is demanded. We have built ourselves into a gleaming beacon of innovation because of this willingness to see opportunities in challenging situations. We have been at the forefront of creation because of our resourcefulness with the tools we were given. We have fostered the rise of amazing companies, artists, innovators, and ideologies. We are a dogged nation fighting fervently to make ourselves the best incarnation of ourselves that we can. We use what we’ve got to build the best possible—in our hearts, in our minds, and in our landscapes.
We are proud of our intellectual prowess. The ability to see, and discern, and integrate that understanding are hallmarks of a well-functioning brain and society. We crave to understand more, do better, find more elegant solutions. To streamline, synergize, emancipate, and reform. We are a culture constantly seeking to do more, do better, to comprehend and synthesize more information than ever before. We want to understand and be sure in our understanding, and to allow our imaginations to flourish, dreaming up even bigger innovations for the future. We desire keenness of insight to build a better tomorrow than we have today.
And all of this would be for naught without the ability to self-evaluate. Are we proceeding correctly? Are we happy with our progress and the direction in which we are headed? Are we happy? Are we fulfilled? Am I happy with my life choices? These are all the deep questions we hopefully ask on a regular basis. Without this self inquiry we see such atrocities as the monopolization of resources or the lack of concern for those around us that can sometimes happen, as with unconscious business ventures that cherish the blessed dollar above all else. Without self-reflection, all of our progress is worthless. What is the point if we don’t harmonize our discoveries with our governing principles? It is vastly important that we remain constantly vigilant as to the internal state of matters and within ourselves.
When I examine all of these qualities in coalition, I cannot help but reflect on how they are being exemplified in our current presidential elections. Are these qualities being espoused by our candidates? I would hope to say yes. That these are the hallmarks of all individuals whom we are considering electing to our nation’s highest post. That their moral and physical health will reflect positively on our country’s wellbeing. Instead, what I see championed again and again is dishonesty, lack of personal insight, stagnation, lack of personal integrity, and a general sense of malaise. If this is what we as a populous body have raised up to symbolize our current state of being, then we must inquire what is going wrong within ourselves.
If we, as Americans, undertook a personal revolution to purify and brighten our own internal states, we would attract much higher caliber governing bodies. We would not attract those slippery, hate-filled, and darkly ambiguous figures that seem better placed in some back-road saloon than in the White House. If we want to have sterling representations in our Congress and Courts, we need to raise our own caliber. Any people who truly accepted their own personal needs and rights to become “all that they can be” (to use the catchphrase of the Army), would never find themselves in the dreadful scenario of having either Trump or Clinton representing them following the coming elections. Even worse yet: a third party candidate nominated from the Republican cesspool that the party has devolved into over the past decades.
It is time we champion those qualities that we hold most dear and important to us, and select someone who represents those qualities that we most fervently demand in ourselves.
Author: Kaelan Strouse
Editor: Travis May
Images: Flickr/Kathleen Conklin