How are you feeling about the country you live in?
Last week, in North America, we had two celebrations of nationhood in four days: Canada Day on July 1 and the U.S. Independence Day on July 4. That got me thinking about a custom followed by all U.S. presidents in one form or another: an annual State of the Union report. Each January, the president comes before the U.S. Congress and declares that â€œthe state of the union isâ€¦,â€ then details an agenda for the coming year. Almost always, the president declares that â€œthe state of the union is strong.â€
But why should the president be the only one to assess the nation? Wouldnâ€™t it be good for us to pause, reflect, and assess our own feelings about where we live?
So letâ€™s do itâ€”Choose Your Own AdventureÂ® style.
Hereâ€™s what I mean. I have my own thoughts about the nation where I live (the U.S.) and Iâ€™ll share them below. If you want to read my thoughts, scroll down. If youâ€™d rather skip them and speak out, go ahead. Pause. Reflect. Then try out these questions: Whatâ€™s the state of your nationâ€”the one you live in, or your country of origin? What moves you? What distresses you? Use the Comments link below, or email me privately, or join my Facebook feed.
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If you decided to read my thoughts, here you go:
The state of my union, today, is ambivalent. Deeply ambivalent.
On the plus side, Iâ€™ll start with me and baseball. Every baseball game in America begins with the national anthem. Everyone who attends is asked to stand in respect and remove their caps. When Iâ€™m at the ballpark, I take an extra step that many others also take: I put my hand over my heart.
I do this in remembrance of the attributes that, to me, truly make America great.
They include the vast expanses of wilderness and open space and fields and unutterable beauty in so many corners of the U.S.
They include the can-do spirit exhibited in abundance by Americans when we are being our best selves. The spirit that has led to so much innovation and productivity and moving humanity forward.
They include the dedication to liberty that is our nationâ€™s bedrock. When humans are free to pursue their own dreams and visionsâ€”more than that, when they are free to embark on the journey to become their best selvesâ€”so much good can happen.
And yetâ€¦on the minus side, America today is so far from its best self.
One could say itâ€™s always been far from its best self, because of the oppression baked into our DNA: the racism, sexism, marginalization of anyone who is different.
But I think weâ€™re further away than in most times. For one thing, I see outrage and overt hatred in abundance. There is a white-hot intensity in our public square that makes it treacherous to navigate. We respond to tweets and posts in social media at our peril, particularly if our own opinion is even slightly different from that of the original poster.
This makes us less freeâ€”ironic, considering our supposed dedication to liberty. When we are not free to act or speak out or explore, the path to our best selves is blocked. Many people, weary of the battle, simply decide itâ€™s no longer worth the effort to speak up or listen or keep abreast of the news. We lose their hearts, minds, and voices, and we are the poorer for it.
Thatâ€™s just what weâ€™re doing to ourselvesâ€”let alone what our leaders and institutions have done to fray our social fabric with policies that demean the humanness of individuals and actions that foster cynicism.
Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m ambivalent, here, now, in this particular nation. What about you? And if youâ€™re ambivalent, have you found a way forward, a way that works for you? Iâ€™d love to hear your thoughts on that too.