I am often tempted to start sentences with the phrase, “What’s wrong with this country is…” and then finish with what I think is wrong with this country. Then I usually want to add how mad I am about it. I’m fed up, I might say. Can we last must longer if we do this? I might add. I may even allude to sacred forefathers sacredly rolling over in their sacred graves. This is because it’s pretty clear there’s lots of those wrong things. As we say in Appalachian, “Things is fouled up.”
But, I believe this has roughly always been the case. A golden age of American purity has never yet occurred. Thomas Jefferson owned other human beings, human beings who had been kidnapped and sold, for instance. Tempting as it is to spend a lot of energy decrying the state of the States, there is an unhealthy angle to this oft-repeated lament.
The problem is that we are wrong to see problems everywhere around us and not another place.
We –and I mean me and you and us– would do well to take a cue from G.K. Chesterton.
In an oft-told story, it is said that The Times of London sent out a questionnaire to noted figures of the era asking them to answer the question, “What’s wrong with the world?’
Chesterton’s answer was unique in both brevity and insight.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
We would do well to at least incorporate into our evaluations of the “horrible state of things” the reality that part of the problem is us. What is inside us and what we do as a result. I’m sad and angry about the state of things in America, from losses of liberty to the ongoing slaughter of the smallest children, a horror advocated and (grotesquely) celebrated by our highest officials. But we are wrong to think we are only part of the solution and never part of the problem.
Many political celebrities make their living by fueling anger and outrage. They do this by telling us a story about the problem and the solution. They give us a version of hell (often the other ideology or party’s rule) to fear/oppose. They then set before us a savior (the celebrity or/and the celebrity’s ideology), followed by a heaven to be gained (the rule of the right party/people). In other words, we are dealing with religion. On the right, the left, and the exotically self-righteous middle.
Actually, it’s not just “moderates” who are exotically self-righteous. There does seem to be a real heavy dose in those who might describe political loyalties in the Facebook terms, “It’s complicated.” But we are all prone to pride and to see everyone else as the problem and ourselves –and people like us– as the savior. This is because, in our hearts, we naturally set ourselves up as kings. But that’s the problem, not the solution.
What’s wrong with this country?
I am, of course.
We shall have to find a savior elsewhere. I would do well to remember it.
We have all heard the expression, “It’s not you, it’s me.” The truth about what’s wrong with the world –and my own country– is not that it’s not you, but it is me.