What as non-Americans, we can and perhaps should learn from the American spirit.

Last week in my Saint Patrick’s Day posts I was pretty hard on Americans.  Let me say right now that those words were purely my dislike of the American habit of perpetuating mythical tweeness about Ireland, the Irish and our nations history.  To say that particular habit annoys me is a massive understatement of simply biblical proportions.  But all that said there are infinitely more things about America and Americans that I not only like, but admire.

The United States of America is a peculiar entity.  Each of its fifty states is more like a semi-independent nation, but each of those nations has banded voluntarily under a single flag for mutual support and strength.  I’m sure most people reading this will have met Americans from different states.  They are a people who will have vastly different views on everything from food to wars to today’s weather.  So some American citizens, at least to the outsider, can seem to be a little schizophrenic.  With two national identities each, one for their state and one for their nation, you then of course have to add an often fierce pride in their town, county and other less easily defined loyalties.

This compares well to Irish attitudes, where very often our people have personal loyalties to town, parish, county, province and nation.  But, unfortunately where in the U.S. those loyalties seem to mostly start with nation and then state, county, town, etc.  We here in Ireland, to our own detriment, seem to lay out our loyalties in reverse.  Parochialism and the parish pump coming first, even before national pride.  This is definitely one area where I think as a nation we have a lot to learn from the States.  Our pride in our townland while important, should always be a distant second to our pride in and our loyalty to, our nation as a whole.

Another huge difference which I’ve noticed,  is in what we seem to prefer to celebrate.  The Americans celebrate their nations victories while they seem to openly acknowledge their failures, but without undue lamentation.  We Irish seem to wallow in our defeats, while we pass off our victories as nothing more than mere flukes.  This is incomprehensible to me.  We so quickly remind ourselves of all our failed rebellions against colonial rule.  Yet how many Irish people know, that when Europe was in the grip of the darkest age of pre-industrial mankind, it was Irish Christian monks who went into Europe and brought back a more stable light of  civilisation to the mainland?  Or what about Irish pride in our history as a provider of peacekeeping forces in the modern world?  No instead we lionize, the undoubtedly brave and patriotic men and women, who rebelled and frankly got their asses handed to them again and again and again.  Or worse, we endorse with hero-worship, people who held the idea that might makes right and that anyone, who didn’t stand behind them were theirs and thus Ireland’s enemies.

Those two examples though are not precisely what I wish to speak to in this post.  They serve more to mark some of the differences that split our nations characters, as profoundly as the Atlantic splits us geographically.  What I want to talk about is what Ireland, and far too many of the smaller European countries seem to lack.  The spirit of adventure.  Adventure is seen, wrongly, as some kind of foolish luxury which should only be afforded to the young, be they young people or nations.  We often laugh at what more “mature” societies see as American silliness.  Perhaps though, what we mistake for silliness is actually better defined as a, free-spirited approach to life and the world.

After all, I’m certain that some Americans do see Ireland as a nation of flat cap farmers, merry girls dancing in the streets, leprechaun’s, myths and saints.  But those same people, from that peculiar nation sent men to the moon.  Were instrumental in breaking German military expansionism, not once but twice.  They split the atom, though admittedly with a lot of Europeans helping.  Best of all they even gave us rock and roll.

What to outsiders is seen as silliness and a overweaned sense of optimism, in the U.S. is seen as frontier spirit.  Which itself, appears to be viewed as the soil in which their American Dream was first grown.  We Europeans though, don’t seem to have much of either the spirit or dream these days.

Ireland right now, is in the grips of its own equivalent of the great depression.  Depression in every sense of the word.  Our economy is, if not in tatters, then at the very least rather threadbare and in need of some serious tender, love and care.  As a people, a society we have once more seen the spectre of emigration, rising rates of suicide amongst every age group and marked drops in living standards visit us again.  This when so recently, we had reason to hope that we had finally seen the end of our nations darker past.  So a sense of depression which is both emotional as well as tangible has swept over us.  For myself this manifests as  I worry about who of those I love will be next to leave.  Will they find security and happiness?  Will I ever see them again if they go?

We have depression and fear aplenty in this country right now.  What we don’t seem to have a lot of is adventure and fight.  We lack spirit.  We lack a dream to make reality.  Some of us foolishly wish for the return of the mythical Celtic Tiger.  Foolishly I say, because just as the first tiger was in reality a well disguised nightmare, another tiger would almost certainly become just as dangerous to us in the future.  Unsustainable growth is not actually a good thing.  But if we could borrow just a little of the American spirit of adventure and with it maybe just a touch of what is usually called the American dream, perhaps we can create that Holy Grail of any nation.  Long term sustainable growth combined with stability and security for all our citizens.

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