A Culture that Glorifies Success

Posted by Alex P. Michigan
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My piece touches on the fact that the American identity is largely formed off of the parts of American history we glorify as successes and the fact that this largely hinders growth, and additionally analyzes the extent to which failure and success can contribute to an identity.

American Creed

In the formation of a solidified American identity, it has become common practice to form said identity on the basis of what defines perfection for America, what is considered a high point in American history. We do so with a lack of consideration of the compromises we have made or the ‘failures’ we have experienced along the way. This seems to happen because giving ourselves any other name than what history supposedly gave us would be, in some form, challenging American triumphs. It is this lack of admittance of defeat that directly prevents development. Once we begin to acknowledge the quality of the idea of using success and failure to supplement each other, then progress will commence.

We glorify moments in history such as the formation of an independent nation with a form of representative government because this event was a mark of progress, individuality, and strength, but we fail to recognize the compromises and choices made along the way that hinder this name of democracy we so closely grasp on to to define our American identity. We often perpetuate this notion that America is a completely democratic society when in actuality there has been numerous developments over the course of time that have hindered this notion of a complete, full democracy. In America, democracy is, in my opinion, one of the things in society that Americans pride themselves most upon. We glorify democracy, we shine this spotlight on it because we often think it to be one of the best qualities of American culture, though we don’t always see complete democracy in our American corner. The establishment of the Electoral College is some of what contributes to our “more restrictive form of democracy.” I put this in quotes simply because though the electoral college hinders direct democracy, democracy within itself, no matter the criticism (as there are viable examples), is not inherently restrictive. The electoral college is an institution that contributes to this more restrictive form of democracy than we give ourselves the name of as its purpose of regulating the direct power of citizens over the sphere of American politics has taken away the importance of a popular vote in a democracy, and instead gives power to chosen individuals. “A president can be elected despite his/her opponent’s receiving a larger popular vote...The electoral college is gratuitously, inexcusably undemocratic.” Because it is the decision of the electors that determines the victor of an election, not the popular vote, we start to see the Electoral College diminish this notion of complete democracy that is so vehemently important to the American identity. In 1787, The founding fathers made the compromise between electing the president on the basis of a popular vote and the election of a president by a vote by members in congress. We often forget this compromise that ended in what we now know to be the electoral college. We often leave this out of the ideal of democracy that contributes to our identity, because doing otherwise would not only change something valued so greatly about America, but would also begin to “challenge” this notion of democracy that our founding fathers established when creating the constitution. Without inserting any harmful bias, I believe that many people want to hold onto this broad term of democracy because giving any name, however more restrictive, would in some way tarnish the view of America. I feel as though many Americans recognize the flaws of America, but fail to acknowledge such because they view this acknowledgement as something potentially detrimental to the American identity. Many fail to recognize compromises, flaws, even how compromises have led to flaws, because doing so would poorly impact our American identity. In being completely reliant on perfection to define the American identity, we hold ourselves back. Instead of nurturing and fostering democracy, we have already assumed perfection, meaning we have held onto the broken system that is the electoral college for years. In assuming ‘perfection’, we have inhibited the progress of democracy in the United States. If we already think we have achieved perfection, how can we progress? If we only perpetuate a perfect view of identity, there isn’t room to build or grow in terms of identity, and we consequently hold ourselves back.

We also see this glorifying-esque behavior in American adolescents. I have noticed, that many students my age, will use a given victory in their life to identify with something or to gain something, similarly to that of 'America' using triumphs in history to identify as something-for instance a democracy, and to gain something in return-support of the public or others. We often tend to use victories in our lives and we become obsessed with this notion of only basing ourselves and our identities off of perfection, and in turn, we make no progress. I feel as though those who subscribe to this practice of glorifying brief moments of success to build an identity may not be as aware of how common it is, not only in defining America, but themselves, as it is a seemingly unconscious tendency. Similarly to using the Constitution as justification for America's level of democracy, an American student may use a success as simple as performing well on an assessment as justification for level of intelligence. We build up this identity of self perfection based on only one, or however many, instances or iterations of excelling, and in the process we accumulate this collective amnesia that does not allow advancement. If we believe we have already achieved perfection, then we instill a mindset that inhibits progress. We use one instance of perfection as a standard to reach, not go above. If we are to achieve this instance of perfection more than once, we have attained the most we can. I feel as though this is something relatively common among American adolescents, even though we have varying degrees of what we define ‘perfection’ as. I think part of the reason I am so seemingly critical of this aspect of America is because I tend to be pretty rigid with a definition of success, especially when it comes to myself. I don’t think this has necessarily made me cynical or too quick to judge, but I certainly think it has made me more apt to how others around me treat any one instance of success, whatever the scale of such may be. I think it is easier to be suitably critical of anything when you tend to separate yourself from the mindset held by those you are criticizing. For my whole life I have deemed myself to be unsuccessful, while living in a nation that glorifies success. Most people assume this is a result of my competitive, perfectionist nature. And I think that’s a mostly fair assumption. It’s these traits that contributed to my diagnosis of anxiety that landed me in therapy. In my time in psychotherapy I feel like I’ve learned a few things on this notion of success and perfection that have aided me in my journey of growth as a person constrained by this never ending loop of feeling unsuccessful in America. I like to think of success/perfection as a scale on which there are two completely contrasting ends, and a reasonable midpoint. On this scale of perfection, the two distinct sides seem to manifest themselves as: those who glorify their successes and those who feel perpetually directionless. The midpoint of this scale is what I would consider to be the two sides almost acting to supplement each other in a way that creates progress. Accepting both failure and success when it is appropriate, in order to grow. I think in America, as a collective, tends to fall on the far side of glorification. I, personally, fall on the far side of the latter. In both situations, there is, for at least some time, a lack of acknowledgement of the other side, which is what hinders growth. I think there is a lack of acknowledgement of another side for both parties simply because we fear giving ourselves a different name than we already have. As typical as it may sound for someone with mental health issues to say, psychotherapy is genuinely what allowed me to see this other side, to see that it is possible for me to attain success, that it’s okay to acknowledge my proud moments, so long as I don’t only use these moments to define myself. While I cannot confidently say that I typically am proud of myself, I can truthfully say that I have been made aware of the other side. I have acknowledged the existence of another side to supplement the side I am on with. Maybe what America needs is ‘collective psychotherapy’ in order to acknowledge the merits of basing an identity on both it’s triumphs and compromises or failures. 

Published on Jun 10, 2018
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