The Best in the World by Gerald Robison
For a minute or two, please bear with me patiently while I make a complete fool of myself! Much to my two sisters’ chagrin, my aged mother thought that I hung the moon and burnished the sun. I always thought she was a good judge of character. I am pleased to be me, healthy self image and more. I would not dream of being anyone else – not even Brad Pitt. He has a beautiful live-in partner, Angelina Jolie, but I will put my wife up against Ms. Jolie any day. I was able to get her because I was and am handsome, dashing, strong, rich, and sexy! Why people magazine chose Hugh Jackman or Bradley Cooper over me just shows how out of it the magazine really is. God bless Gerald!
In school, I was always at the head of my classes. I set the curve high. I was elected student body president for my second year of college. I was then and am now a very popular man. God bless Gerald!
I own one of the finest houses on Jackson Lake – a belvedere of sheer excellence. This house is on a beautiful lake with a spectacular view. People stand at our bay window and look out with awe and envy. Boaters also drive by on the lake and gaze with equal amazement at our home and landscape. God bless Gerald!
I fathered three sons, handsome, intelligent, strong, healthy, personable, and dynamic. One can do almost anything with his mind and hands. Another is approaching his first billion and has one of the super rich mansions in bulkhead, the home where FDR lay his head when visiting Atlanta years ago. My other son has a genius rated IQ; but since he is my son, I could say that’s not surprising, although, I have considered a DNA test on that one. But, he eventually grew a voice and Adam’s apple similar to mine. So, I let him off the hook. God bless Gerald!
I can sing the lowest bass note of anybody I know. With Elvis’ friend, J. D. Sumner dead, this left it open for me, that is, until I heard this guy, Roger Menees, on NPR recently hit a note I can only match early in the morning when I have a sore throat. Those Russian bass singers with their low notes – bring ‘em on! God bless Gerald!
Thank you for not heading for the exits. May I humbly assure you that I have been speaking in a rodomontade of such exaggeration as to give hyperbole a bad name – except for my wife and sons, of course. I was using the technique of a young Cassius Clay, the “Louisville Lip,” who often proclaimed that he was the greatest. With him it was an effectual publicity ruse that he could really back up. The “Brown Bomber,” Joe Louis, who reigned as heavyweight boxing champ for an incredible 1937-1949, could not have gotten away with this approach. Why? Because generally, no one cares to hear other people praise themselves. Even if a person is undoubtedly the best at something, that person needs not say so. Even those who have excelled in combat, in the extreme dangers of warfare, do not need to heap praise on themselves. We even have a name for aging soldiers who boast of their bygone battle heroics: miles gloriosus. The author of the biblical proverbs had it right when he wrote, “Let another man praise you and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips.” (Prov. 27:2)
If this is true for individuals, then why in the empyrean of the high heavens is it not also applicable to a nation, a country, a people as a whole? Who among the 193 nations of earth wants to hear this? Assuredly, not a single one. Every time the President of our country, a candidate for office, Joe the Plumber, or any other famous or rank-and-file citizens boast of our superiority, they diminish us in the minds of all other nations – even our friends.
I have the privilege of an occasional therapeutic body massage, administered by a charming Australian woman in Monticello, Georgia. We always converse throughout the massage. One day I mentioned my concern about our country’s tendency to boast of its own greatness. She laughed, and said that there is a standing humorous exchange among Australians when they come across anything made in the USA. They quickly say, “The best in the world!” Hence, the title of my speech. This facetious humor, a bit of pleasant persiflage, is done among our friends and allies! Forget our enemies!
I am wondrously happy to be a citizen of the United States of America. My citizenship is by jus sanguinous and jus soli, by parents’ citizenship and by birth on this soil. I cannot say I feel proud of such because I did not have anything to do with it. At about the age of 3, I slowly came to realize that this was just where I was. I do feel love for and loyalty to my country. I want good things for our nation. And, to paraphrase my good fellow musician friend, Ed Jones, because I care, I cringe when I hear our people openly crowing about our world superiority, thinking this is an act of patriotism. Contrarily, this does not further our cause any more than I was boosting mine in my opening remarks. As I was boastfully shooting myself in the foot, so do our citizens who carry on about how we are the greatest among nations.
“God bless America,” is a sentence we hear or see every day. Certainly, if there be a God, then we do not want him/her cursing us. But as I did for myself in the beginning, we say it so often, so emphatically, on so many occasions that I fear this may be a reflection of the same self-adulating syndrome I have been describing. I saw a bumper sticker that read, “God bless everyone – no exceptions.” That seems a more fitting request to the being who created everybody. We non-theists get left out of this exercise altogether, but I am accustomed to being treated as though I do not exist.
The term, “America,” is a problem itself. God bless which America? In a small college lectureship in Tampa many years ago, some of our students were permitted to contribute to the colloquium. A Christian Japanese Peruvian classmate spoke tearfully about the bitterness felt by his countrymen because we referred to ourselves exclusively as, “America.” To them, it appeared smug, supercilious, and pompous. In reality, he said America consists of Canadian Americans, United States of Americans, Mexican Americans, Central Americans, and South Americans. He believed that we should not have claimed the name “America” exclusively any more than his home country of Peru. With the audience responding negatively, those in charge were anxious to get him off the dais. I had never given it a second thought until then. Right or wrong, that was his feeling, his opinion. This was a bold step for him. It made me think outside my little narrow box of a world. Our coopting the term, “America,” for ourselves could easily be viewed as presumptive, with a possible touch of arrogance. This has not changed in over 50 years since. Our Australian friends typically refer to us as “the states.”
One other among many examples of our questionable assumptions is our baseball “World Series.” This fall classic commenced in 1903. The playoff match is between baseball’s American and National Leagues. What is “world” about it? Absolutely nothing. The only team located outside the United States of America is the Toronto Bluejays. For many of those 109 years, no team outside the USA participated. Oh, I know that the first contest was sponsored by Joseph Pulitzer’s the New York World newspaper. That may have influenced the series’ name. But, who among the nations knows this? Did you know this? We call our institutions anything we want, and the world can just get used to it. That is the problem – the world has gotten used to it, but they do not have to like it.
Our world leadership in baseball, our national pastime, has been seriously challenged. We won the baseball Olympics in 2000 after suffering a devastating defeat by the Japanese in the old Atlanta Stadium during the 1996 Olympics. I was there. The World Baseball Classic began in 2006 and repeated in 2009, consisting of 16 teams from 16 nations. The Japanese won them both, even though we had select players from our major league systems. Dave Johnson, a World Series winning manager, directed our 2009 team. The sport of boxing may often appear tainted, but I have to give them credit where it is due. They have four major organizations controlling boxing: the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing Organization, and the International Boxing Federation. When they say world or international, they mean it. Recently reigning heavyweight champs have last names of Chagaev, Valuev, and Klitschko.
We do excel as a nation in many areas of life. Our economy dominates all others. The U.S. accounts for 21 percent of global GDP; China just 6 percent. However, other measures of significant importance among the nations find us 38th in average life expectancy, 37th in health systems, 34th in infant mortality, and a sobering 72nd in general level of citizen health. (Wikipedia) Why be surprised when 50 million of our people lack health coverage, the only major industrialized nation without it? Our attempts to turn this horrendous situation around extend back at least to the revered President Harry S. Truman. Our recent progress on this subject has met with mind-boggling, earth-shaking, ear-piercing shrieks of opposition, as though a terrible evil, some deadly virus has been let in among us.
A quick scan of world history shows that several nations led the world over the centuries. Since the mid-1500s, the top ranked nations in commercial and naval power were probably the Netherlands, Spain, France, and England. Then it was our turn – the 20th century led by the United States of America. The nations I named are still fine countries. None of them had to retain their number one spot. What really matters whether we retain or lose our lead? In the Nutmeg Dynasty, the UConn women’s basketball team won 91 games before losing, smashing UCLA’s male record of 88 games without a loss. The leader of the UConn women, Maya Moore said, “It’s always about the little things, about being as good as you can be on every possession. It’s not about the score.” (Jack Mccallum, SI 121310 50-54)
Quiet, reserved strength should be our hallmark. That was the onscreen image of our heroes such as John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and cowboy stars Wild Bill Elliott and Johnny Mack Brown. It was the offscreen and later onscreen image of Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat soldier in WWII. It was the reticent gentle giant Marshall Matt Dillon who, only when compelled to do so, resorted to “Gunsmoke,” blowing away the loud talking, boastful gunslinger! If any one of these heroes had boasted of his exploits as I was doing earlier, his glowing image, his persona of quiet, unassuming greatness would have been shattered.
WWJD? What would Jesus do? The image painted of Jesus in the Christian scriptures is largely a quiet, gentle rabbi who advocated greatness through humility. He said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt. 5:5) What should be true of Christian individuals should be true of a nation comprising many Christians. Did he preach this way because he was weak? No. Meekness is not weakness. The author of the Roman Epistle said this was a way to heap coals of fire on the heads of the enemy. (Rom. 12:20)
The concept of being God’s special elect, God’s chosen people was claimed by the ancient Hebrews (Ps. 33:12). Christians adopted the idea for themselves. The Epistles of Romans and Ephesians made such claims with language that caused millions of Christians, including John Calvin, to conclude that God predetermined and chose who would be saved and lost before they were ever born. Some Christians even interpret that the saved will literally be the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7. That is about .00001 percent of the 108 billion hominids (NG 6/11) estimated to have lived in just the last 50,000 years. Hell is evidently going to be a heavily populated place. By comparison, heaven will be a virtual ghost town. But, our citizens did not just leave the chosen status with the Israelites or the Christians. Instead, we in the U.S. took up the banner for ourselves. God shed his grace on us. As a nation, we became his newly chosen ones.
The issue here is that no person outside the chosen group wants to be excluded, not wanted, the one who did not get an invitation to the prom. We all grew up with “in groups” and “out groups.” We wanted to be in. We detested those who were in when we were out. Resentment and envy roiled. How would you or did you feel when you went through rush and were not voted in, when you were blackballed from the fraternity or sorority? How would you or did you feel when an exclusive nightclub practiced its “face control” at the door, and they turned you away – you were not one of the “beautiful people”? When we assume the mantle of God’s chosen nation, his exclusive country club, his internationally favored fraternity/sorority, we set ourselves up for the same opprobrium, by friend and foe alike.
Yes, a wholesome sense of self worth and personal pride is good, both as an individual and as a nation. We do not need to feel inadequate, insufficient, incapable, and inferior. I always liked the humor in the statement, “I used to have an inferiority complex until I found out I was.” However, merely replacing an inferiority complex with an equal dose of superiority helps no one. Hubris is the word: excessive pride, arrogance leading to destruction. Another is bayard: one armed with the self confidence of his own ignorance.
Again, returning to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we find they are loaded with references to the evil of pride and arrogance, such as Proverbs 29:23: “A man’s pride shall bring him low; but he that is of a lowly spirit shall obtain honor.” In James 4:6, the Christian writer quotes the Hebrew scriptures (Prov. 3:34) with, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,” repeated also in I Peter 5:5. These instructions are exceptionally clear. They do not say, be humble as individuals but haughty as a country.
I do not encourage people to enter this country illegally. However, I cannot help but feel warm and wholesomely proud when persons want to be here, live here, work here, rear their children here, and seek to make a happy home and life here. I feel honored that they will try desperately to come here, legally if possible, illegally if necessary. They will risk life and limb to be among us. I am impressed by their determination, their focus, their energy, their indomitable spirit. I support any attempt to open paths of legality and citizenship to immigrants of good character. I grieve for those who fail in this struggle and observe with sadness that many of our citizens who boast the loudest of our superiority are often the same who scream for tougher immigration laws, border fences, deadly patrols, and other hardnosed policies. They block every attempt to provide paths of citizenship. The recent failure of the Dream Act is a case in point.
Ask yourselves who in your younger days would rush to help the schoolyard brute whose bragging and bullying got him into trouble? Individuals need friends and helpers. Nations need friends and allies. Posturing of our potent power precipitates the opposite of its intent. This is nothing short of jingoism and xenophobia, excessive bias in judging one’s own country as superior to others, an extreme type of nationalism. It is not true patriotism. If it is, then Samuel Johnson was correct when he said, “Patriotism is the refuge of fools.”
In closing, do we want to be the “Ugly American” in the eyes of the world, the America with “too much self-esteem.” (James Poniewozik) First, let us please banish from our minds, words, deeds and institutions anything that even hints of world dominance. Second, may we stop being the super sensitive egomaniac nation that caterwauls every time we perceive a slight, an insult, a negative criticism from another country. Where is our noblesse oblige? (“Freedom Fries for French Fries, for God’s sake!!) Third, let us stop berating our own President when he makes a simple, respectful bow to another country’s monarch who traditionally receives such greeting. Fourth, can we not stop whining about some imaginary lost greatness of our nation – “I want my country back” – because we are being “Europeanized,” simply because our leaders show a little respect, a little humility, a fair consideration for the viewpoint and practices of another country? Bleating and mewling are beneath us. Fifth, may we stop assuming victory by rushing unilaterally in “shock and awe” onto other people’s territory in wars we cannot win? And, sixth, let us not only remain in the United Nations, but we should never again treat the UN with impudence, appointing representatives who disdain and dismiss this crucial institution. We were once indeed Admiral Yamamoto’s “sleeping giant.” Now let us stand awake vigilantly, quietly, humbly pursuing world peace, mutual respect, neighborly relations of harmony and helpfulness from this day forward. Amen!