On this July 4th, Independence Day, I want to spend some time to ponder on what it means to be uniquely American. There is no doubt that America is a unique country. But what makes us so unique?
Let’s go through the list and see if we can pin-point why we’re unique:
America started with a revolution - ah but so did Russia, France, and probably dozens of other countries.
We have amazing natural resources - again so does Russia, Germany, England, China and others.
We have a Representative government that is elected by the people and answers to the people. (a Republic not a “Democracy” as the media likes to tell us). - Other countries have that too.
In the words of Earl Dibbles Jr (country singer): “We’re back to back, undefeated, world war champs. Hoorah!” - Okay but so are the British… technically.
We have “checks and balances” in place - hmmm. Doesn’t really feel like that these days, but I guess we do still have three separate parts of government.
We have a constitution that is designed to limit the power of the government and protect individual rights. - Okay, yes we still have that.
We have more guns in civilian hands than any other country in the world. - Ah, now we’re getting somewhere!
But does that make us uniquely American? Gun ownership? A lot of other countries also have high gun ownership per capita (though nobody else comes close. We’re still the world champs in this arena with 1.2 guns for every person in the country. Booyah!)
People in Serbia have a lot of guns per capita, but that doesn’t make them similar to Americans. So it isn’t gun ownership itself, but could it be the underlying culture that both wants to own guns and is vocal about its ability to do so?
I believe so.
America has a history and culture of rugged individualism, personal responsibility and personal liberty. And these aren’t just buzzwords. They are part of our national fabric and identity: We don’t want to be told what to do, we work hard, keep our word and we hate it when a bully tries to step in and take away freedom (ours or someone else’s).
Hearing those traits, you may also come up with other countries and cultures that share one or, maybe two, traits but not all three. For example, Australia has a history and culture of rugged individualism - but they aren’t as liberty / freedom focused as Americans.
Germans are known for their work ethic but again they don’t have the rugged individualism or liberty focus of Americans. In fact they have a very collective focused history just like most of Europe, Asia, and of course the grand daddy of collectivism: Russia.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Now mix in a fourth trait that I believe really makes us uniquely American:
Our willingness to take risks.
The founding fathers of our country were the ultimate risk takers. In fact, many gave up everything to win our independence from Britain. Once independence was won, those remaining took a huge risk on this experiment we call the United States, creating a form of government that had never been tried before. It worked out (due to great people with great minds and a willingness to take risks) and we have the most influential and prosperous country on the planet.
While not everyone today may feel like a risk taker, go back to the beginning of your own American genealogy and you likely have someone that got on a ship, an airplane, or walked here, leaving everything behind for a “new life” in America - the land of the free and home of the brave. I believe we all have the risk taker “rebel gene” in us somewhere.
Over the past nearly 250 years, America has been a strong and successful country because her people exhibit a unique combination of traits. Think of many of the famous names from history and they likely had all or most of these traits. People such as George Washington, Thomas Paine, Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, George Patton, the list goes on.
Americans with the combination of these traits made our country the greatest country on the planet:
- Rugged Individualism: Don’t tread on me. You can’t tell me what to do. (Notice how we’re the only country NOT using the metric system?)
- Personal Responsibility: My word is my bond. I’ll do it myself rather than take a government handout - that feeling is still alive and well today.
- Hard Work: Aren’t we the only country with a 40 hour work week?
- Willingness to Take Risks: aforementioned “rebel” gene and land of the most innovation in the past 150 years (flight, radio, moon landing, video games, aluminum cans, mud tires…).
- Liberty Minded: As codified in our Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence we uniquely start with the position that our individual rights are given to us by God and our government was established to protect those God given rights.
So on this Independence Day, think about what it means to be uniquely American to you.
To me, true Americans have the freedom and a duty to take risks to improve our life and the lives of people around us. We take responsibility for our actions and don’t try to pass the buck to others. We work hard and defend the weak from the bullies. We also know that our government was established to protect individual rights against the collective. When it fails in this duty (as it has recently in many ways), we are a vocal people and take appropriate action.
If we choose not to exercise our freedoms, then we will lose them. If we don’t actively protect them, then we will lose them. If we don’t instruct our children and help them develop these traits that make us uniquely American, then we lose them. If we lose what is uniquely American then we lose this great country. It is up to each of us to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Happy Independence Day everyone! Let’s honor it by strengthening our uniquely American traits with everything we do.