The leader of the free world and me

One of the ways to learn about a country is to tune into the politics and with America heading towards an election its almost impossible to avoid right now. This is a big time of choice in America – a real contest between going backward or moving forward (no prizes for guessing what side of the fence my vote would be going to).

What I have been particularly struck with is how often politicians from both sides refer to America being “the greatest country in the world.” This is particularly interesting to hear from the perspective of an Australian-dwelling New Zealander who has also previously lived in England/Europe for a few years. From my perspective, America may be overstating things just a little.

I’ve actually been a little shocked since I arrived here at how behind USA actually is on some things. It’s the greatest country in the world, and yet only this year did Obama sign off equal pay legislation in the USA. I did a brief bit of google research, just on the countries I’ve lived in, and found that Australia signed off equal pay legislation in 1969, the UK in 1970 and New Zealand in 1972. That’s not to say it’s all perfect of course…women still get paid less…it’s just more subtly tied to the type of work we tend to do. Nevertheless, in contrast, its taken the USA rather a long time.

Then I thought about women’s suffrage, knowing that New Zealand was the first country in the world to sign into law the right of women to vote. Turns out that happened in 1893. Australia followed close behind in 1894 with one of its states and by 1908 all states in Australia had given women the right to vote. The UK did so in 1918, then USA in 1920.

There are many ways to measure greatness, and by many standards I’m sure America IS great. But its pretty cheeky, and the thing that makes America somewhat annoying on the world stage, to assume there has never been and never will be such greatness anywhere else. As anyone who has studied history or recently watched The Newsroom knows, the facts are different from the mythology.

Still, you’ve gotta love a healthy self-esteem, I’m all for that! And best I be careful how much I reference it over here. After listening to my rantings at various radio and TV reports, my American man’s new favorite pastime is to tease me with how grateful I should be to him for bringing me to “the greatest nation the world has ever known, the leader of the free world.” As he has traveled widely and therefore has experience of being on the outside of USA looking in, I assume that his tongue is firmly in his cheek. Best for him I don’t find out any different – as a woman from the first emancipated country in the world, I don’t suffer male dominance gladly!

Back to the other kind of politics. I watched quite a bit of the Democratic convention. I was particularly impressed with Michelle Obama’s speech. It was personal and heartfelt, speaking with genuine respect about the man she loves. She talked about qualities of kindness, caring and compassion. Terms that should be used much more often in politics, in any country.

She envisaged a place where we could be stepping through the door of opportunity, not closing it behind us, but reaching back to bring others through. Rather than promoting the competitive ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, she spoke of us all being in this together. Many spiritual teachers would agree…it’s about time politics and big business caught up.

I particularly resonated with her thoughts on success. “Success is measured not by the amount of money you make, but how much difference you make to others.”

That’s something I can get behind, whatever country I’m in.

On a personal level, it also gave me some insight into what I’m doing with my life. In terms of income and career titles, my life hasn’t exactly been a trajectory shown by an upward line on a graph. It’s been more full of squiggles and tangents as I’ve struggled to find the perfect balance for myself and my perceived purpose in the world, with the need to pay my rent. Over my life I’ve thrown away big job titles for the chance to discover new things about myself and how I might make a difference to others. Sometimes I’ve wondered about my sanity.

But it seems to me that what the world needs right now is a whole lot of people doing the same, and the leaders of our lands could be showing us the way.

I’m not ready to pledge allegiance to the flag just yet, but I’d pledge allegiance to Michelle Obama any day.

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