What makes America great is not our endless preoccupation with liberty or freedom (those things are great, but they’re more effects than than they are causes).

It’s not our military force or our Constitution (impressive creations, perhaps, but still not the source of greatness).

It’s not our our radical inclusiveness or endless diversity (again, more of an outcome — though I must say I am very proud of those things when we do them right).

Like most things (true for organizations and leaders, for example), it’s the WHY that makes America great.

It is the underlying motivation of our founders — WHY this country exists, in the first place — that has made it a great place to live for many years.

At its core, America was founded on the idea that certain ways of treating other human beings are NOT OK. Our architects rebelled under a banner that said, “If people are not being treated rightly, it is up to us to speak up and change it.”

What makes America great is our fundamental passion to challenge the nature of societal entropy. It’s an internal fire that makes us stand up and shout, “THAT IS NOT OK!” — and then, even more importantly, to DO something to change it.

What makes America great is our desire to grow, to evolve, to become something better than we were. And because this started with our founders, this catalytic energy is somehow baked into our DNA.

To be sure, we make (and have made) our share of mistakes, but greatness isn’t defined by the fact that we do stupid things, but that we FIX them and don’t repeat them. That we now recognize the equality of different genders and races, for example, and that we’ve changed our systems to reflect this new way of thinking.

Why am I bringing all this up?

Because a moment very similar to 1776 is upon us again. But this time, the threat is not an oppressive country “out there,” but the institutional systems we built, right here.

At this very moment, far too Americans are suffering at the hands of a economic system that is tragically unjust and unfair. It is unsustainable at best and will be our complete undoing at worst.

It is NOT OK for corporate profits to be soaring while so many people remain un- or under-employed.

It is NOT OK for incomes to be this disparate.

It is NOT OK for jobs to pay so much less than what people need to live.

It is NOT OK for 82% of our people to not be passionate about the work they do. (82%!?)

It is NOT OK for people to die making our gadgets (this may happen overseas, but these are our companies).

It is NOT OK.

As Americans, we have a duty to do something to change the status quo.

Those in power have no reason to change. But that is the very reason revolutions happen.

Will you stand up? Will you do something?

America is great today because a fiery group of rebels believed SO STRONGLY that they could create a better life that they went to war with the greatest empire on earth. I do not believe today’s revolution is one of violence, but it will take the same spirit.

Do we believe in a better life that much?

What will it take to upset you enough to do something?


P.S. Today marks the 43rd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. In honor of his life and activism, GOOD posted a terrific article today that is along the lines of this post. Check it out here.


Further recommended reading:
Dutch bankers’ bonuses axed by people power from The Observer
Vietnam by Bob Lefsetz
Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% from Vanity Fair


5 Replies to “What Makes America Great”

  1. Megan says:

    What an inspiring post, Josh. I got goosebumps reading it! Also, because I subscribe via Google Reader, the Think Different commercial from your previous post loaded and played in the background – which added some inspiration factor too.

    In Michigan, we’ve had a lot of political turmoil lately. It frustrates me to no end see people complain incessantly and do NOTHING to change it. I’ve said for many years that apathy has never been fuel for change.

    Bravo to you, Josh, for not only being an agent of change yourself but inspiring others to be agents as well.

    • Thanks so much, Megan. Your note totally made my day!

      For some reason I didn’t realize you were in Michigan — it’s like my second home as my wife is from the Detroit area. Michigan is quite a wonderful, and lately, tumultuous, place. In Detroit, at least, there seems to be quite the rebirth happening now, though, which is exciting to see!

  2. Megan says:

    Detroit is certainly on the mend these days, thankfully. It is such an amazing city and plays such a large role in our nation’s history. I’m from Lansing, myself – another automotive grave town. Soon enough we, too, will see some rebirth I hope! I love this city.

  3. Gaythia says:

    I stumbled into this website as a result of a Google search for “what makes America great” for a message to my congressperson that I am composing.

    This is an excellent post, and I’ve now bookmarked the site.


  4. Toby says:

    I like your post, Mr. Dykstra but it is unfinished. I totally agree that it was the “underlying motivation of our founders” that makes America great. However, the items that you listed are not motivators–reasons to act in a certain way–but rather the actions that are motivated by something else. For instance, we can still ask how the founders came to the conclusion that treating other human beings in certain ways is not OK. There is always an underlying first principle (cause) that, when believed with conviction, leads to the conclusions by which one acts (effect). I would like to see another blog post on the beliefs of the founders that would lead to the conclusions you mentioned that made America great.

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