Recently, I wrote a column in which I quoted an Episcopal canon who was speaking on the subject of “splintering” within Christian churches. The quote I used was: “Came looking for God; got church.” I applied that same thought — looking for something and getting (finding) something different — to a discussion about political parties.
Several people liked that approach and asked me if it had other applications — positive or negative. The answer is yes. Most humans, and I can easily write about Americans from a point of view spanning nearly 50 years of personal observation, are always looking (searching) for something. Recall my column about Henry Knox and his curiosity. That character trait, curiosity, is very American.
In every class I teach — whether college, high school or continuing education — I will lecture on Dr. Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” For those unfamiliar with Maslow, his concept is simple. As human needs are satisfied at one level, humans look to a new level for need satisfaction. At the pinnacle of Maslow’s concept (usually depicted as a pyramid) is “self actualization,” a point at which all needs are satisfied.
In my opinion, within the American culture, which includes a human element and is unique among all other cultures, is my sense that Americans never achieve self actualization. Americans are always looking for something, never satisfied, always at least curious about what is beyond the next bump in the road of life.
Many students of the world brighter than I likely will disagree with my opinion. Others will provide many examples of Americans who are more than satisfied with their lives. I realize that there are always exceptions to any rule. This is my opinion, but it is one that has served me well as a personal motivator and as a means to motivate others.
If we, as Americans, are always looking, it goes without saying that we will find something and the something might not be exactly what we’re looking for. Let me give you some examples.
“Looking for a healthy lifestyle; found hard work.” I expect most have already deserted the traditional New Year’s resolutions to eat less and exercise more. What many found, before abandoning the quest, was changing a long-standing lifestyle takes hard work and a resolute will power.
To be balanced, some (and I suspect it is the minority, and that minority does not include me) looked for a healthy lifestyle, found hard work and loved it. To that minority, I applaud you.
You might say our Founding Fathers were “looking for freedom and founded a government,” our form of government — a republic. I wonder if Washington, Jefferson, Madison and the Adamses would recognize our government today as the bastion of personal freedoms that they envisioned.
Did America’s founders believe that a supreme court should “make” laws; an executive branch “subvert” laws; and a legislative branch be unable, because of political posturing, to enact laws? No, our three branches of government were to be keepers of our freedoms, through a system of “checks and balances,” not usurpers and the sometimes enemy of our freedoms.
The government our forefathers founded was established with a legislative branch to make laws, an executive branch to execute laws and a judicial branch to interpret laws. In theory and in practice, each branch was to keep an eye on protecting individual and corporate freedoms.
Today, many Americans are “looking for leadership and finding Congress.” Granted, the president is our nation’s leader; however, Congress, our personal representatives in a republic form of democracy, is chartered by our Constitution to lead this nation. That leadership occurs when Congress creates the framework (laws, rules, fiscal plans) within which we, the people, live.
And our Congress today can’t even pass a budget and balance our “national checkbook.” What kind of leadership is that? Is that leadership by any description?
I’m reminded of a country song by Deana Carter titled “Did I Shave My Legs for This?” In the song, the protagonist was looking for an expensive night on the town, a fancy restaurant, a stage play, late-night drinks at the Club and romance. What she got was a fast-food hamburger joint, warm beer and video on demand at home on the couch. Like her, as Americans continue to look for more personal freedom, it would be great if what we found was “less government” and not a “lesser government.”
Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.