As a school principal, I once had a conversation with a parent from Ukraine. His child was in my office because he had refused the bus driver’s direction to sit down when the bus was in motion. The boy showed he had mastered at least some of the English language when he swore at the bus driver.
The father was incensed that his son was in trouble. After all, he asserted, the United States was a place where people were strong, assertive and independent. His son didn’t like where he was sitting and wanted to change places. He was just (literally!) standing up for himself, the way any American would. He knew this was the American way, he said, because he watched Westerns on television.
I like to think the discussion that followed led him to disavow his badly skewed view of American Society, but the view of the U.S. society as a collection of self-centered, non-cooperative individuals does persist.
Our current crisis requires cooperation and concern for others, as well as ourselves. We are all connected. No one person or group can survive long-term if we act primarily as individuals.
We do have great expectations of our society. We often claim that Americans can solve any problem, no matter how difficult: but this is true only if we work together. The failure to do so leads to grim reality.
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