Monday, July 4, 2011

Travel and Patriotism

Sometimes I cringe when people say the USA is the best country in the world.  I think, perhaps, these people have never been to any other countries, or they've only been to the ones we're fighting wars in.  Or perhaps they've traveled, but never really left home.

I think the USA is a good country, more or less.  But out of nearly 200 countries in the world, can we really say it rates number one?  Certainly not in all areas.  Certainly not for all people. 

I've travelled to many different countries, and had long, thought-provoking talks with travelers who have spent time in far more exotic and culturally distinct places than I've ventured to.  One of the things I've learned is how very many definitions of "good" there are in the world.     

I'm proud of many things about my country.

You can do a great deal to change your life for the better here.  Opportunities abound.  But that's true of many other countries too. 

The justice system is less flawed than in many nations.  More flawed than some, true, but less flawed than many.     

I remember during the presidential election of 2000, when for days we weren't sure who would be president, I wasn't particularly afraid it would turn into a bloody coup or a civil war.  That's saying something.  But if a similar event happened in Portugal, say, or New Zealand, I'm not sure their people would worry about anarchy either.

We have very little of the starving-children-sewage-in-the-street-no-way-out sort of poverty very poor countries suffer with, and that makes us very, very lucky.  However, we're also one of the only first-world countries I know where a huge proportion of the middle class can't afford health care. 

I often disagree with our foreign policy or the foreign wars we interfere with or even instigate.  But I'm not afraid of saying so, and that means a lot.  And even if I disagree with our wars, I still believe—perhaps naively—that it's mostly well-intentioned, if often misguided.     

Despite our problems with racism and prejudice, I think we have managed to integrate more cultures with less day-to-day strife and more harmonious diversity than any of the other four countries I've lived in.  My sample size, however, is quite small, and I believe there are countries that do it better than we do.    

We enjoy a great many freedoms, and I'm grateful for them, but we're not the only citizens with these freedoms.

In case I somehow haven't made it clear, we enjoy many rights, privileges, and luxuries in the US.  But it is by no means the ONLY free country.  It is not the ONLY country with democracy, or the ONLY nation where a poor child can grow up to be a successful businessman, and it's certainly not the only place where people are happy.

Mark Twain once said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."  Sometimes I think travel can be fatal for patriotism, too.  And perhaps that's not such a bad thing.        

It's not that I don't love my country.  Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" can still make me cry.  It's just that I love a lot of other countries too, and have seen first-hand how we might benefit from imitating different models from around the world.

Of course, I wouldn't mind if other countries imitated a few of our best ideas either.  After all, I'm proud to live in the land of free ice water in restaurants.

Happy Fourth of July!


  1. You seem almost guilty about your feelings. You should not. I love the song, "from a distance" as we all are inherently the same. We all love, laugh and cry.. We can at times become blinded by what we are accustomed and ignorantly think that our way must somehow be right. Wars are fought for many reasons.. wanting what another has, disagreeing with what another does or believes, hate through ignorance, and perhaps tied with religion for worst... patriotism. Blindly following behind your big brother.
    There is so much wonder in every corner of the world, in nature and in people. If only we could focus on what makes us the same rather then what makes us different.

  2. Thank you for your comments! So much internet conversation is about hatred and fear. Thank you for sharing love and openness. And I agree: "From a Distance" is truly a great song. So is "Imagine." And the world can be a beautiful place.