Denisa and I had quite the interesting conversation the other night. I forget exactly how we got into it, but the gist of it was her frustration with the mindset that some Americans have that we have to be the best in everything we do. That we’re the best country to live in. That we have the best health care, or the best technology, or the best education system, or the best _________. And the thing is, I don’t think a lot of Americans realize just how arrogant and puffed up that mindset makes us look to the rest of the world.
Think of it. What if you had a friend who always wanted to prove he or she was better than you? You’re good at hunting? Well, he has to prove he can take down a bigger deer. You like to play the piano? She has to prove she can play it better. Good at Trivial Pursuit? Well, he can beat you. You name it, they want to show just how awesome they are.
All. The. Time.
We approach international rankings like they’re some sort of report card for our worth as a nation. China’s doing better than us in something? OH NOES! PANIC! South Korea has better internet connectivity? The world is going to end. And heaven forbid a lowly country like Sweden or some other place some of us might not be able to find on a map has the nerve to start succeeding in something. Nope–it’s our way or the highway. We have to be best.
Why is this?
Maybe some of it is a remnant of the whole Manifest Destiny ideology–the idea that eventually America will take over the world and everyone will love us. Maybe it’s because we suffer from low self-esteem as a country. We know we have our flaws, and we strive to cover them up by shouting from the rooftops just how great we are.
I’ve got nothing against national pride. I love America, warts and all. But I’m okay if we’re not the best in every category–because there’s a difference between being good or great at everything, and being the *best*. I don’t have to be the best writer in the world. I don’t have to prove I’m better than Hemingway or Tolkien or Jordan or whoever. That’s okay. I want to be the best I can be, not the best in the world. I don’t have to play the piano better than Beethoven. I want to play it the best that I can. I want to continually be improving.
Being the best you can be is a big step away from being better than everyone else. It’s all about what scale you’re using. I don’t mind us comparing ourselves to other countries to see where we might need to improve. Challenges are good, and anything that gets us motivated can help. But turning that into “India has more tech graduates than we do. This means we are failing as a country” . . . I can’t get behind that sort of sentiment.
And don’t get me started on the Olympic mindset, where we have to have more golds, more silvers, and more bronzes than everyone, or else we suck at sports. The world’s getting smaller, people. We should be celebrating the fact that other countries are progressing. That as a species, humanity is constantly improving. It should be an “us” mindset–not an “us” vs. “them.” Because the more “thems” we create–the more we compare subsets and turn this world into a big reality television show, the more we shoot ourselves in the foot.
So come on, America. Let’s not be the boorish neighbors anymore. Let’s sincerely congratulate other countries on their successes. We’re not the best country in the world. There *is* no “best.” We might be the best in one area, or a few areas, but other countries will be better than us in other areas. That’s okay. If the Chinese economy is bigger than ours, so what? If Germany starts to become a powerhouse in technology–bigger than us–who cares?
You know what, America? Other countries are really nice to live in, too. Having lived abroad for years at a time, I’ve seen first hand that being seventh or eighteenth or twenty-third best at something doesn’t make a whole lot of a difference. Simmer down, and learn to get along with everybody else. Let’s not be the losers who pack up our game and go home the second we start to notice someone else beating us at it.