Saturday, February 12, 2011
When it comes to the world’s stage, America has long had a bit of an ego complex: we are the paradigm for Democracy. We are the good that can happen when people have a voice. We are the exemplar for how other nations should behave.
Well, inevitably, a still (relatively) young nation is bound to have the ego and the preening pride of a teenager, which is what we are when compared to some of the world’s older sovereign nations. And we’ve had the energy and the bucks to back up our boasts, and, with a teenager’s heart, we’ve often been passionate and sincere in our desire to do good for others.
But in the same way that people who don’t let go of that teenage ego as they mature (or rather don’t) can shift from passionate to disturbingly pedantic, we as a people stand potentially guilty of the same over-weaning behavior, the same naïve assurance curdling into egotistical grand-standing.
If we put our money and our beliefs where our sometimes too big mouths are, then we are cheering for the people of Cairo, not because they’ve got it all figured out (as yet) but because they finally awoke from their apathy and said, no, we don’t like what’s going on and we’re not going to take it anymore. They demanded change. And while there were some skirmishes and mistakes made in the protest process, they were minor compared to the major task they were accomplishing. It is particularly significant that when some rioters started attacking national treasures, the crowd reminded them that these were the people’s treasures, Egypt’s treasures, and promptly created a people’s detail to surround the museum to protect the contents and NOT sacrifice them as part of the demonstration. This spoke both of a national pride and a realization that the art of the past is a vital and necessary part of our culture today. We should salute our brethren in Egypt, regardless of whether we are Catholic, Muslim or Jewish, because we support human rights, human kindness, the desire and the right to raise our families, to celebrate life and to live in peace and earn an honest living.
Many Americans have been strangely speechless this week, especially in certain usually noisy corners of Washington. On one hand, an open display of a fight for Democracy that was not instigated by us was a shocker, and we couldn’t take any credit for it. On the other, since we had supported the Mubarak regime, a regime that apparently had outraged so many that this was the result, we didn’t know what to say, especially as Mubarak had been our ally in the war on Terror, so that till now we didn’t want to ask too many questions about what else was going on. Fears have been expressed that maybe the new regime, still to be determined, may not be as favorable to our friendly “wishes.” They may not leap to our defense each time, and they may not be as generous with passages through the Suez, which could have a financial effect at the gas pumps. The question is: do we, the American people, really believe that any people have a right to their own voice, or do we support them only as long as it serves our interests? If their wants differ from ours, will we still support their right to choose?
Meanwhile, there are folks here in this country striving to eliminate NPR and the NEA and all financial support to our national culture, as if it were some senseless frill to be cut from wasteful spending packages. These are the same folks who refuse to enact legislation against animal cruelty, ignoring the warning signs that if we can be cruel to our defenseless four-legged friends, we are only a literal stone’s throw away from abusing those who walk on two legs who we deem “lesser.” And these are some of the same folks remaining fairly quiet when they see other people’s rising up to claim the rights we always say all human beings are entitled to by birth, the rights our Constitution trumpets.
This continues to be a strange and frightening time in the world and, yes, things are not the same globally, politically or economically. But the changes are not all bad, and often there are scary moments before change finishes yielding its benefits. Perhaps it bruises our egos a bit that WE may not be leading the charge, even though I think the people of the United States have in fact inspired our brethren in other lands to believe that they can have a say in how they live and who rules them. Rather than sulk, it is our time to not only support other people in other countries in their efforts to become independent, but also to re-evaluate ourselves and what we value. Do we value basic human kindness? Do we value decency to animals and others? Do we value art and culture as the epitome of our very humanity? Or is it always to be about money, who has the most, who shows it off the most, and who is more valuable because they have the most? We may not need a revolution—but a little bit of soul-searching and re-evaluation wouldn’t hurt us any, either.