I believe in the United States of America.
I never imagined I would feel the need to state or defend this belief. When I came to this country exactly thirty years ago, it was the culmination of an intense desire to experience the spirit of America – its quirkiness, its freedoms, its grandeur – , and the beginning of a quest to become a good scientist. I came from a free and democratic country, from a well-educated family and a life of privilege. I was neither fleeing poverty nor political persecution. I did not come to make a fortune, or to live a better life. I came simply because America took my breath away.
My children were born and educated here. They may have acquired a better vocabulary and more rigorous math skills back home, but I wouldn’t trade the totality of their experience here for any other anywhere on this planet. The curiosity, innocence, idealism and open-hearted acceptance of diverse views and people that they have learned here, is a uniquely American phenomenon. I remember being captivated by these quintessentially American qualities in the wide-eyed Peace Corps volunteers I had met in India. I have learned that there is no blueprint for acquiring these values. They are imbibed through the largesse and generosity of people everywhere – from cashiers at check-out stands wishing you a nice day to professionals in all walks of life taking pride in their work, and being fair-minded, honest, sincere, and yes, professional. Even a tourist on a brief visit goes home carrying the memory of this generous spirit. I believe in the spirit of Americans.
I believe that the spirit of the American people arises from the wisdom and fairness of its political system. Yes, there are politicians and religious leaders who routinely distort scientific findings to serve their political agendas. But I see it as a sign of tremendous hope that there are others who campaign tirelessly to tell the truth, however inconvenient.
I am dismayed by polls showing that half the population rejects the theory of evolution or that one-third of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Yet if America is still at the front lines of innovation in science and technology, then I see it as the triumph of the American mind, even if in the minority.
Yes, there is bigotry and discrimination here too. But Americans are constantly having their consciousness raised. One doesn’t really appreciate how evolved our sensitivities as a nation are to issues of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation until one visits another country. I am optimistic that like blue jeans and coke, American political values will spread globally without a single soldier ever having to lose his life again.
America to me remains a sensation of vast, open, exhilarating, inviting and embracing space, the same sensation I experienced when I got behind the wheel on my first cross-country trip and the road ran up to meet me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.