Monday, February 8, 2010

The American Ego

Americans have a compulsive need to defend themselves in the eyes of the world. Now that the world is more globalized, most of realize the world hates us. Instead of taking it in stride, like the leaders we claim to be should, we throw fits. It's a bit embarrassing. An article from the UK Guardian shows the American Government pledged to donate more money to Haiti than any other government--$450 million. The amount will cost the American taxpayer about $2.50. That's fine. Canada, making the second highest pledge, said its government would donate $130 million, costing their taxpayer quite a bit more considering their population (man, woman and child) is about 33 million--approximately 1/9th the U.S. Population. We must keep in mind that other countries are also generous and consider population. While I'm happy the American Government hasn't become so jaded by every other country's opinion and ceased charitable donations altogether, we cannot lose sight of the reason we give relief funds and aid.

In the Guardian article's online comments, most non-American comments bashed the United States for... well, what seemed to be just about anything. Some said we were only donating to Haiti because it is close to us. Some people argued that we are responsible for their horrible state in the first place (this is kinda-sorta true, but not really. Click Here for additional info). Some say it is only in our military interest, otherwise we'd do nothing. I hate these comments as much as the next American, but it comes with the territory of being a powerful nation. Deal with it.

Instead, what do the American commenters do? They boast about how generous we are. They boast about how much money we always give and without us, the world would collapse. It aggravates me when Americans turn national wealth and worth into a competition. Those who say Americans only donate when it is in our interest don't pay attention and know little about us. However, in reading the comments from my American contemporaries, I can see how our image is tarnished. There are enough Americans out there, damaging our reputation, spreading the word that we should be thanked, that we should be appreciated, that we should be recognized as oh-so-totally-awesome, and it's sanctimonious autofellatio.

We should be doing the right thing only because it is the right thing to do and for no other reason. If people need our help, we help without expectation of reward or appreciation. Someone expecting gratitude is making humanitarian gestures for the wrong reasons. I believe that most Americans understand this, even the simplest of us. Or, perhaps, especially simple Americans, unclouded by political complications and outside influence, they know that Good is Good and that's all they need. Everyone likes to be appreciated, but expecting praise for good deeds is egocentric and sad.

I truly believe Americans want to help because they can. We have our financial struggles, but in dire circumstances, we have the funds to lend a hand. So we do. In addition to the pledged $450 million from our government, private U.S. organizations have donated an additional $700 million. I'm very happy that the American public was motivated to donate such a large sum. I'm glad we donated more than any other country. Honestly, though, if we didn't, I'd be ashamed of us. We should help because Haiti needs it and we can do it. People who take those numbers and boast about our superior generosity are missing the point and do not properly represent what America is about. It's not about bragging rights. We should be content to live in a country that can make a difference.

Occasionally, I've run across Americans who think we should donate nothing because we've got our own problems. We've got homeless people and poverty stricken communities, we should focus on them, they say. True we have our own problems and should address them, but our homeless aren't eating dirt to survive as they are in Haiti. Our poor population didn't just have their buildings crash in on families. Our government was not demolished in a few minutes. Most of us have no problem with our government giving aid. Again, most of us think it's a good thing. The rare (and unfortunately loud) Americans who compare our problems to Haiti should find a cliff and make like lemmings. They don't represent us.

For those Americans who throw a royal fit about being verbally attacked when we don't deserve it, I understand your frustration, but do try to practice magnanimity. We can be hateful and petty with one another, boast and sing our praises at home, but please, keep it off the international stage. Because if I were from another country and read the crap you said, I'd kick you the fuck off that high horse too.

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