Reflections On Being An American
I, like most thinking Americans, live in two worlds. I live in the world of the mind, where I can look at things critically and connect the dots of government behavior in order to complete the picture outline of what they are attempting to accomplish. In my mind's eye, I see the overwhelming power of the corporation, the false reality packaged and fed to the people via the television set and the already written play that the actors dutifully follow every two years in what we are supposed to believe are “free” elections, but whose outcome is predetermined and depends little on our participation. But I also live in America, where I am encouraged to forget what I know and play the game anyway. I am as weak as most people and do what I’m told, and in the end, my reluctance to do so means little.
It is the week before Christmas and we have sent out our packages to family members, filled with gifts purchased from retail stores. Every day, we are receiving boxes in return, stuffed to the top with gifts that we set underneath our Christmas tree. We are not Christians, in fact both my husband and I are atheists, but we succumb to the pervasive latent Christianity that we tell ourselves is nothing more than family “tradition”. If we lived in the world of the mind, we would surely stop using tradition as an excuse to celebrate a holiday we don’t believe in. If not to celebrate the birth of Jesus, Christmas only serves the interest of corporate America as we contribute to their yearly profits, most of which is made during the Christmas season. Even though we made phone calls to everyone before Thanksgiving, telling them we were going “light” this year on Christmas shopping and begged them to do the same, no one listened and even we failed to comply with our wishes. I wanted so much to make all our gifts this year, but instead of sending off gifts that were filled with my handmade love, all I have are a dozen or so half-finished projects to show for my efforts. I tell myself that next year will be different, but that is just another trick I play on my mind, a lie I tell myself in order to reconcile my inner and outer life.
The idea that the only way to fix a problem, is to go deep inside it and fix it from within is nothing more than a justification for participating in a system we no longer have faith in. It’s a false choice that we all too often fall victim to. It is a distinctly American slogan and I’ve heard it my whole life, “if you don’t like the way things are going, get involved and change it.” I am coming to realize that working from within the problem, just makes me part of the problem and that the only thing I can truly fix, is myself. How can I fix a broken system that I willingly take part in? By taking full advantage of the lifestyle provided me as a result of being a white woman born in America, am I not endorsing the idea that there is something special about both being white and being American? Yet I am told that to shun the advantages that I have been handed as my birthright is to insult those around the world who were born into poverty, who would surely prefer to walk in my shoes.
As Americans, we have been indoctrinated our whole lives into believing certain things about ourselves. We are rugged individualists, we are blessed by our birth, we are beacons of hope for others less fortunate around the world, we are thoughtful members of the global community and we believe that hard work will be rewarded. Even when we see with our own eyes that these things are not true, they are so ingrained within us that we are able to suspend our disbelief and carry on as if the distorted image reflected back at us is nothing more than the trick of a funhouse mirror. In order to honestly challenge what we see wrong in our country, we must be willing to challenge ourselves, which is by far the more difficult task. There is much to be proud of in being American and not all of our beliefs about ourselves are wrong. The trick is being able to claim what is truly ours, and rid ourselves of the rest.