Greatness and Goodness
I hear people say, “Make America great again.” I see the words written on baseball caps. I have questions about this slogan. How does a country become great? Can it lose its greatness, and if it does lose its greatness, how does it happen? Do the people of the country fall on hard times, or do the people and its leaders betray some value or foundation principle that initially gave the nation life? Did the country lose a war? Did it deplete a natural resource? Can greatness be restored? So many questions, but for now I ask only one thing, “Define great.”
A Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in the mid 19th century in his two volume work, DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, prophesied, “If America ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.”
We may call a nation great, but it is great only because of its people’s willingness to abide by certain values and ideals. I call into question whether we the people are abiding by values, ideals and foundation principles that have resulted in people calling America great.
Three things come to mind when I think of greatness. Perhaps they are expressions of the goodness that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA.
First…As a minister, I recall Jesus’ encounter with His disciples when they were debating among themselves who was the greatest and who would be afforded the honor to sit at Jesus’ right hand when His kingdom was established on earth. Jesus’ reply was that the greatest among them must be servant of all. In declaring this definition of greatness, He set an ego trap luring the disciples who yearned for greatness into a life of service.
The greatest among us will be servants. The question is how can a nation abide by this definition?
The second consideration answers in part the question above. A nation’s greatness is determined by how the powerful treat the powerless. The more developed a society becomes, the more humane it is, the more compassionate it is.
A country’s greatest asset is its people. Countries are feared because of military might or economic leverage, but they are admired, not because of the courage of its warriors or efficiency of its financial institutions, but because of the creativity of its people. Great countries support the emergence of potential from within its citizens. The sign of an emerging potential is not solely prosperity; it is posterity, something that contributes to future generations.
If you want to determine if a nation is great, look at its children and assess their opportunities for greatness, and you will see the future of the nation. By definition, when the powerful mistreat the powerless and fail to afford all citizens the opportunity for full expression, that nation cannot be great, is not great. It may be feared, but it will not be admired or serve as an example of what a people can do and be.
Are you beginning to see what must be done if our nation is to be “great?”
Finally, for a nation to be great, it must be of one accord. It is too much to ask that we the people be united around political ideologies, but it is not too much to ask that we be united around values, values such as those outlined above: service, compassion and the support of the potential that rests in each of us, especially in our children.
The Values of Greatness
Our values are reflected in the candidates we elect. How tempting it is to elect candidates based on political agenda. This has been the standard for decades. It sounds reasonable, but if we want to shake up Washington, (More coming on this in a future blog) we must elect those who possess the values of greatness.
When we elect officials based solely on our needs and political agenda, we become fragmented, not because of political divides, but because of a difference of values. We elect people without values for greatness and fissures form in the democracy that Alexis de Tocqueville admired. The flag waves, but the country wavers.
A New Slogan
It is ironic that the president of the United States was elected with the campaign slogan, “Make American Great Again,” but that he does not govern by values that define the true meaning of what it means to be great.
We need a new slogan. It may not contain the word great, but let it be a chorus of words that declare our values, a chorus so natural that each of us believes the words originated in his or her heart.
What slogan do you suggest?