Over my lifetime, I’ve had the recurring feeling that America was an adolescent nation beginning to come of age. Like a lot of adolescents, our national behavior was erratic, moody, reactive, hostile, defiant. We found ourselves popular, got conceited, broke faith with our best family traditions, made excuses for ourselves, blamed others when things went wrong. We flirted with the drug of war, had some bad trips, pulled back, then relapsed several times. We didn’t know how to handle our money. We bullied our younger brothers and sisters. We got caught in some orgies of torture and other shameful behavior. Yet we thought we were “all that” and found it nearly impossible to admit our failures.
During this election, I felt that our nation was poised between the chance to grow up a little and the chance to prolong its adolescence a little longer. By choosing Barack Obama, I believe, we’ve chosen to mature into a more responsible and humble young adulthood as a nation.
The choice we made on November 4 becomes clearer, I think, when we compare it to what the opposite choice would have meant. We could have kept on singing the simple, familiar, comforting, but naive trickle-down hits we’ve been singing since the 1980’s. But we chose to send those beloved songs to the oldies station and learn a new more mature economic song instead. We could have stayed true to the outdated warrior creeds we learned in the Cold War era, but we’ve chosen to go to seminary and learn a more mature way of living among the other nations of the world instead. We could have clung a little longer to our old faithful American myths – childish myths that contain a dangerous mixture of high ideals and flattering self-deception. But instead, we’ve rejected denial, and we’ve decided to go into counseling and maturely face the complex dysfunctions that are rooted in our national childhood – including our racial dysfunctions born of land theft and slavery in regards to Native Americans and African Americans.
We could have kept trying to solve conflicts with adolescent fists rather than with mature minds and hearts. But we decided that mature people learn to tame their “fight or flight” impulses, choosing spiritual over visceral responses, learning to employ wisdom, compassion, and character when facing conflicts. We could have continued our careless behavior in regards to what has been entrusted to us – the land, our infrastructure, our resources. But we chose environmental responsibility, foresight, and the long-range common good over short-range profit and comfort instead.
Adolescence is a dangerous time, and we aren’t out of it yet, but on November 4, I believe America showed she is growing up. Barack Obama is a disciplined man, and in him, I think we saw something we need as a nation.
Now we didn’t make this choice by 90% or 80% or even 60%, so we can’t be too impressed with ourselves. But we made it, so we can’t be too hard on ourselves.
We may not stick to our decision, so we can’t be complacent. But we took a first step by making it, so we have reason to celebrate.
And so do our neighbors around the world. As in any family system, when one member changes her behavior, others will need to change as well, so perhaps America’s step toward maturity will play a role in our whole world coming of age. That would be good news indeed, and if anyone wants to be cynical about that, I’ll only say that my vote stays with “yes we can!”