Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. The American Dream. This is how America was described to me as I was growing up.
I was taught to love and appreciate the country I was blessed to be born into. I was taught to be a giver, and to fight the need to be given to. I was taught to have a sense of pride, and even a touch of arrogance, about being an American, because I live in the greatest country in the world. I was told to love my neighbor as myself.
The definition of neighbor seems to vary among individuals.
Neighbor, to some, means the people in our neighborhoods. To some, it means friends. For some, it includes people at work, school, church, or those we interact with as we enjoy our hobbies and our lives. For some, they also include other nations as our neighbors.
For me, the title of neighbor has grown to include the homeless, the person standing alone at a gathering, the child whose parents would rather they go play than stay home, and the person across the world being persecuted for what they believe, or rather, what they have rejected to take on as a belief.
American Pride often keeps us looking at the things we value, that look good on the surface, but rarely does it acknowledge those within our nation that are the least desirables. At best, we touch those subjects with a few glancing words giving a shallow appearance of compassion, while moving on to a more comfortable subject like football, or how many medals we won in the Olympics this year. American Pride give homage to what looks pretty on the outside, while skirting issues that don’t reflect pride or even the pretty. For example, the way our war heroes are treated, often neglected, if they don’t find the successful path that ends up in a house with the white picket fence and the 2.5 children, that have become entwined with our definition of “American Exceptionalism”.
Years ago, when I was placed in another country, I went with my American Pride and touch of arrogance. I had been taught being an American meant I was the best, that I was better than other people. I learned pretty fast, that I had been taught wrong. I learned that even though we have this great respect for ourselves, other people in the world, well honestly, they hate us. They don’t think we are great, they don’t rejoice with us that we were born in the greatest country in the world. No, they don’t respect us, they don’t even like us.
I learned that people are people no matter what country they live in, and when we attempt to define them by their country of origin, we are missing the big picture. I learned to appreciate what those in my host country of Japan, the Okinawan people, placed value on, not trying to Americanize them, but embracing their culture and learning to interact with them, even in a limited way, in their own language.
I found that people want you to meet them where they are, and find things in common with them that they love, that honor them. I realized that putting people above America was more important than trying to get them to be more like an American. I learned that something as simple as saying, “Thank you.” in their language meant more to them than just about anything I could do or even give them.
I came to love the people of another country, and even respect them as much, sometimes even more, than those in my own country. I grew to appreciate and sincerely value the true humility I saw in them and in their everyday lives. I gathered as much knowledge and information as I could about the area I lived in, so I could understand them better, and so I could be effective when I prayed for them, from my heart.
I gained a new perspective and clearer sight. My neighbor is everyone, no matter what their station in life, or what their nationality or belief. And, I learned how to love them as myself, even more than myself.
America is an amazing country, full of opportunities, hope, and generosity. I love my country, my heritage and my life. But now I also love people everywhere far above my love for my country.