Defining Great: 1.0

That slogan:  Make America Great Again

We’ve seen it on everything from bumper stickers to baseball caps.  On podiums and podcasts.  But have we ever come to a consensus about what makes a “great” nation?

Maybe Monaco is great.  They have the longest life expectancy of any nation in the world.  Denmark was named the happiest country in the world, so that’s pretty great too.  Finland’s exemplary education system is exceptionally great.  Iceland was deemed the safest country for two years in a row, so those fine folk must sleep great at night.  Qatar has great wealth, Brazil great adventure, and France great culture.

The United States topped a 2016 greatest list too:  for world power.  So that’s great, right?!

Or not?

There are over 318 million people in America, and a great number of us don’t even agree on what makes us great.  And that’s a whoppingly great problem.

But we’re all Americans, so surely we can unearth a few universal truths, can’t we?  If we all agree on some core values, is there a chance we’ll drift back to the center?  Towards each other?  Wouldn’t that be the greatest greatness of all?

How about this for starters:  A great America is unified, not polarized.

No one would deny that our nation’s polarization has been festering for years.  Some would say it’s normal for the pendulum to swing, but today’s pendulum feels more like a scythe, slicing us apart at our core.  A latent Civil War has infiltrated everything from Thanksgiving dinners to Inauguration Day.

In light of this divergence, I’m not holding my breath for a transcontinental group hug.  But as a first step, can we please, please, please stop labeling each other?  Can we reject the idea that mass groups of people can be defined by a single word?

Rural. Urban.  Liberal. Conservative. Black. White.  Democrat.  Republican.  Rich.  Poor.  Racist.  Elite.  Gay. Straight.  Christian.  Muslim.  Pro-Life.  Pro-Choice.  Deplorable.  Feminist.  Creationist.  Scientist.

The truth is, we’re all human and we’re all complicated.  It is inexcusable to render judgement about a person’s intelligence, morals, or character based on a singular label.  If you refuse to listen to someone else’s perspective because of a label, consider yourself part of the problem.

And speaking of listening:  “There is a difference between truly listening and waiting for your turn to talk.”  (We can thank the great American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson for that great quote.)

So what do you say?  Are you willing to step out of your bias suit (don’t get defensive – we all have one) and into someone else’s shoes (not everyone has those) for a few moments?  Will you really listen to the reasons your neighbor planted a Trump sign in his front yard?  Will try to understand what that paramedic saw in Aleppo that still makes her weep in the shower every morning?  Will you keep an open mind when health professionals and small business owners voice concerns about our new health care laws?  Will you respect people’s right to peaceful protest – not because they lost an election, but because they have genuine concerns about the winning candidate’s rhetoric and policies?

We’ll never agree on everything, and that’s okay.  Our nation was founded on the right for people to disagree.  But if we truly listen to each other, I believe we can find common ground.

And wouldn’t that be the greatest gift of all?

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