America is better than your country. As a matter of fact, it’s the greatest country in the world. True or false?
Regardless of what you think, Americans’ belief in their greatness is the reason why they walk into any competition, acting as if a win is tantamount to being a patriot who battled in war. They’re protecting their country’s self respect and pride every time they compete. They’re protecting their right to achieve their dreams. They’re upholding their conviction that they should be a shining example to the rest of the world about dignity, determination and power.
Watch most Hollywood-made movies. America saves the day, and the hero is American. Why? Because America is great. It’s a beacon of hope. Listen to any speech given by a top official and you’ll hear it. America is the greatest nation on the planet – and even in the wider universe if you count its role in kicking aliens’ asses in every movie.
Before President Barack Obama took office, I never listened to US presidents’ speeches. Okay, I listened to Clinton’s speech, when he insisted that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. But, like many other people across the globe, Obama captivated me, in a way that not even my own presidents or prime ministers have.
Since Barack Obama sprang into the spotlight on his first campaign to become President, I started listening to his and other public officials’ speeches. One thing that struck me was the consistency with which most people claim that America is the greatest nation in the world.
…would my country – Trinidad and Tobago – be better off, if we prophesied our greatness and made it a core message that was disseminated to the masses…?
Would it make us strive for greater? Would it boost our pride, sense of nationalism, and love for “sweet T&T”? Would it stream into our consciousness and stick, making us believers in our country and ourselves? Would it make people who represent us at international competitions feel more confident? Of course, this sort of identity would need to be backed by governments investing in people to ensure that they have the tools and training to operate successfully on the world stage.
Saying that we’re the greatest doesn’t mean we’d actually become the greatest, but like any sportsman will tell you, it’s all about using the hype to drive your intentions.
Saying that we’re the greatest doesn’t mean we’d actually become the greatest…
Yes, our politicians aren’t progressive. Yes, we have Government ministers who publicly state – without a stutter – that activists on hunger strikes should hurry up and die. Yes, crime is plastered across newspapers’ front pages. Yes, we suck at being green. Yes, we don’t stand up for serious issues – as a people. Yes, we don’t have systems and organisations that support entrepreneurship and innovation, and don’t focus on diversifying the economy. We’re not that great. And we know it.
But let’s consider the merits of America’s mantra. While claiming greatness may seem like a cocky position to take, it’s also a good one. This sort of identity formation is what has propelled America as a superpower, even at its weakest moments. It has made being great its objective in every task, and helped it fire back at critics of its ‘exceptionalism’, while boasting of its industry leadership in technology, science, and other areas.
That’s why Jamaica’s dominance at the Olympics is enough to piss off Carl Lewis, and many others, who don’t believe in the power of Caribbean prowess – and are upset that Jamaica has ended USA’s dominance in top athletics events. Coincidentally, I’ve heard that one reason Jamaica performs so well is because its people genuinely love their country and believe in their potential to be great. And they’ve got icons to support that belief – Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Merlene Ottley, and others.
Let’s revisit Obama for ten seconds. While he believes in America’s Declaration of Independence, which claims that God bestowed America with unalienable rights, he’s been heavily criticised by Republicans for seeming to be “insufficiently willing to assert the supremacy of the American way of life”. But that’s beside the point. Does Obama absolutely believe in the America is the greatest nation in the world rhetoric?
“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism,” he once said.
So, hey, we can believe in Trinbagonian exceptionalism too – the same way we believe that only Trinis know how to party hard and still go to work the next morning (or not).
Maybe this belief in greatness is something we should have borrowed, along with every other aspect of American pop culture. We’d have to do it in a way that wouldn’t totally turn off our Caribbean neighbours (wait…we’ve already done that) who already think Trinis are cocky. But…if our aim for greatness leads to better systems and cooperation, which invariably sometimes benefits them, maybe they’ll forgive our pronouncements.
I imagine that this kind of philosophy – not the extremist notion that God blessed your nation alone with gifts – but the one where you believe in your potential for and achievement of exceptionalism is what truly builds a nation. A nation is something bonded by shared values and beliefs. Is my country just a country, or is it a nation? These days, to me, it’s just a country.
Do you really believe that your country is great? How do you prove that your country is great? You have to be great too. People have to believe in themselves. Not just role models and icons. You have to believe in your own greatness. Never underestimate your excellence, and strive to achieve it. Do it as an individual; then let it spread to your social circles. Make the desire for greatness contagious.
Maybe we need to overtly demonstrate belief in the already established greatness of some of our countrymen, and the potential of ourselves and others. This isn’t about becoming the greatest nation on Earth; it’s about becoming a nation that consciously strives for greatness. Even if we don’t fully achieve it, hopefully it will land us several notches above mediocrity. Let’s just say we are great for the sake of motivating ourselves to do the work to become better. If we switch the dialogue to what we can achieve, maybe the tides will change, and we will have more to celebrate, than criticise. What do you think?
Image credit: bleacherreport.com