This I Believe

Joanne - Midwest City, Oklahoma
Entered on January 22, 2007

I’m a big guy, between 6’3″ and a telephone pole; and somewhere over 200 lbs. I’m sort of used to having people stare at me, and yet when I walk the streets of a foreign country, I know I’m a marked man, and for reasons other than my size. In or out of uniform, it’s like I had a sign on my back, “American.” I’m proud of it.

I like people. I guess my code is pretty well summed up by a fellow who was raised in the same state I come from. “I never met a man I didn’t like,” Will Rogers used to say. I’d even go further and say that I like over ninety percent of them after I get to know them, and I’m interested in the other ten percent. How do you get to know these people you find around you all day? Well, back home we’ve got another saying when we mean we like and understand somebody, “That guy speaks my language.”

It’s pure murder, what I do to the language. My thick Southwestern tongue just won’t wrap around some of the required sounds. I see it in the knowing smiles of the people with whom I speak, and I smile back. Sure, the smiles start because a foreign word rings with a Southern drawl, but they broaden with the deeper realization that I’m standing before them attempting to meet them on their own ground.

You don’t have to speak like an orator anyway. When it comes right down to it a good listener often can make a better friend than a good talker. Another game that I don’t play at home and wouldn’t play with a foreigner either is “We’ve got bigger, better and more than you.” I try to avoid comparisons, but when I must make a comparison I attempt to make it in favor of my host. If no favorable comparison can be made, I treat the subject as shortly and as truthfully as possible.

I love my country and mostly perhaps because she gave me the freedom to mold my own destiny. I hope to serve her well and do my share in passing on that same freedom to future generations. Yet, as much as I love my own country, I realize that a part of me comes from the people and the countries in which I have served. If I can do as much for the people I meet in foreign countries and leave with them a part of me, with a greater understanding of America, Americans, and their hopes and dreams for the future of the individual man, then I will have succeeded in my part in winning friends for freedom.

Freedom Foundation Essay Contest