Independence Day reminded me of an article that I read several years ago. The author explained the process that the Texas Board of Education was using to review proposed curriculum guidelines for the public schools in their state. As part of the process, the board was debating about the wording of various sections and phrases of the guidelines. Their goal was to ensure that Texas teachers would teach in a manner consistent with the Board’s views on how education should be delivered.
The article grabbed my attention when I read that one of the controversial sections being debated was how America should be portrayed by teachers. Apparently, one of the major sticking points that they were wrestling with was a section in the guidelines that suggested teachers should portray America as exceptional. The language encouraged teachers to talk about the great contributions that America has made to the world. The guidelines also suggested that teachers should emphasize the quality of life in America.
Sadly, several participants in the process disagreed with the proposal that teachers should emphasize the greatness of America. Their point of view was that portraying America as great implies that America is an imperialistic nation. As a result, if teachers follow the recommended guidelines, presenting America as great would devalue other countries.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, these people are wrong. They’re dead wrong.
Emphasizing the greatness of America does not devalue other countries and peoples. In fact, if properly portrayed, presenting the greatness of America will encourage the people of America, as well as people of other countries, to strive for their own greatness. Remembering what the great people of our nation have done will demonstrate how others can be exceptional and have an impact that elevates their own culture.
The current debate over immigration casts an interesting paradigm on this issue. With so many people wanting to immigrate to America, why do they want to come here? And why do the immigrants who have relocated here want to stay? Isn’t it interesting that people are attracted to a country that sees itself as great? And that they want to leave their native country because their homeland is perceived as not being as great?
The greatness of America is a shining light that provides an example to people throughout the world of the incredible power of democracy and freedom. The world will not be a better place if the greatness that is in the world is devalued or covered up.
We have slowly seen an abominable goal—mediocrity—elevated to a place of honor and esteem. This reframing is done indirectly. It is brought about by criticizing those who try unusual things or who don’t adapt to every foolish aspect of pop culture. It permeates our environment as we are consistently encouraged, often subtly, to accommodate and placate incompetence, mediocrity and outright stupidity. In our modern culture, all too often compassion for “victims” is elevated while those who overcome obstacles are criticized.
I have read the biographies of many great men and women of our history. My takeaway is that at some point every one of them had good reason to consider himself or herself a victim. If they would have done so, they would have achieved nothing. Instead, they chose to make an effort to rise above their circumstances.
Joel Kotkin, author of a fascinating new book on the next 100-million Americans, was asked what worries him about our country’s future. He responded that he is concerned that America will decide it is not a great country. If it focuses on mediocrity instead of greatness, it will be unwilling to take the role of leader of the free world. Kotkin believes that the biggest threat to America is a decision by the American people to seek mediocrity over greatness.
Unfortunately, tolerance of mediocrity creeps into our lives with great frequency. It causes us to expect less from others. It is seen when every participant receives a trophy or a high grade, regardless of whether they did anything to earn that accolade or not. In the work place, it suggests that we do not recognize those who work harder. It tells us not to offer a reward to those who achieve better results because we might upset others on the “team.” It causes us to feel guilty if we give the person who works harder a larger raise.
It is fashionable for those of us who are older than Millennials to be critical of this growing segment of the adult world. We are troubled by their failure to accept the status quo, their desire for change, and their emphasis on becoming the best version of themselves they can be. We want them to fit into the world the way it is instead of trying to make the world a better place.
Strangely, their life view seems remarkably similar to the way outstanding Americans have viewed themselves throughout our nation’s history. Millennial’s life-view has a lot in common with the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the other great men and women who took tremendous risks to make our country great.
I urge you to become more aware of how often you allow the mediocrity view to creep into your perspective and actions. Don’t get caught in the trap of fitting in. Don’t give up your ideas and dreams. Don’t accept mediocrity in yourself or in others.
Challenge yourself and those around you. Question the status quo. Be a catalyst for change. Listen to others with great ideas (including Millennials). Take actions to change things for the better.
Finally, set expectations for yourself that you will not become mediocre and that you will do your best to lift those around you. Great countries are made up of a lot of great people. Let’s cultivate more great people.