How A Statistic Changed My Belief
I recently learned that the United States population reached the 300 million mark. I usually think in terms of numbers, how much or how small, making comparisons in my head. Until this finding, I had always considered Americans to make up a relatively small number compared to the six billion inhabitants on earth. A small number with a great deal of power. Americans, I thought, are the most privileged peoples, whose citizens’ importance far outweighed the rest of the world combined. America, I coyly believed was The Superpower of the World, a title acquired not necessarily through playing fair, but through hegemony, questionable moves on the world stage.
I wanted to put the news of the 300 millionth baby in perspective as the number relates to the rest of the world. I knew that there were a billion Indians, even more than a billion people in China. For long, I assumed that there were many other nations with larger populations and more representation than Americans on earth. I was amazed to discover that after the Chinese, who made up most of the world’s population, and the Indians trailing behind as a close second, the country with the third largest population in the world was indeed America.
I now look at America and her 300 million inhabitants as a place that runs relatively smooth considering the large number of people it is given the task to manage. A country where a number of cultures, beliefs, and groups vie for the title of being the quintisential American. I often hear my colleagues in psychology quip that America is so diverse that it is impossible to describe an American, as if they were snowflakes. But, I believe that there is a description of a typical American and this typical American is in a state of transformation, from surviving its own dysfunctional family of origin, to coming to the international family reunion. This quintessential American is defined by participation in a democracy that serves as a model of freedom of thought and expression and cherishes the notion of protection of individual rights.
What the statistic of America being the third most populous country in the world means to me is that our impact on shaping on how the world thinks, behaves, and entertains itself, becomes all the more important as is the idea of who an American is. With the changes in demographics, who an American is and what an American represents is also changing.
I never considered myself patriotic. Even after 9/11 when the expected response from Americans was to value what we have, not to take for granted our liberty, and to defend our country when being attacked, I still did not feel patriotic. Because, patriotism as I understood it meant that I supported with mind, body, and soul American’s behavior with other citizens of the world. Instead, I felt somewhat embarrassed by the reactions of fellow Americans. I certainly did not support what I saw as America’s predictable aggression and refusal to be introspective, something I promote everyday as a psychotherapist. I feared that The American voice, was one that was aggressive and defensive.
But know with my knowledge that there are 300 million of us, the responsibility of being a beacon of hope for our world, now feels more deserved. Indeed, we have the numbers to back it up. At a time when our levels of empathy is roughly the same for the homeless in our nation’s cities who we share McDonald’s restrooms with, or a hungry child in the Sudan who we will never meet, what we do with our emotions becomes much more widely important.
The world starts to look more and more like a global family. And like at Thanksgiving, we meet those who we would give anything for, and those whose existence we would rather forget, we have no choice but to face the reality that this is our situation, these are the people we share our resources, and these are the relationships that define our happiness.
And yes, in much the same way that I defend my own ego structure at the Thanksgiving table with my siblings and their familes, I also enourage my country, America to stay on top in the world stage.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.