Revere the wise and the foolish, the strong and weak among us
MODERN American culture idolizes flawless victory and unblemished heroes. When America goes to war, our citizens -- though they would never openly admit it -- demand an immediate victory with none of our soldiers killed, and preferably, only enemy buildings and materiel destroyed. In sports, we demand that our athletes never miss a free throw, never fumble a ball, never strike out, always qualify for a championship and always make the draft cut the first time. In movies, consider the plethora of "superhero" films that have been released in the last 10 years alone -- "X-Men," "Hulk," "Superman," "Batman," "Spider-Man," "Fantastic Four" ... the list goes on without number. America desires immediate power, immediate strength and superlative talent, and despises even the smallest setback.
The problem with this mindset, however, is that it erodes two values that are critical to the continuum of freedom: patience and compassion. Democracy is rooted on social contract: the theory that people willingly agree to live together in self-imposed order and cooperation. Without patience and compassion, people are no longer citizens but "consumers," and where society once functioned due to the honor code or personal virtue, legislation and increasing police power are suddenly needed to maintain order.
THIS SHOULD not be so. If America wants to remain strong and free, she must learn not only to protect but to cherish and love the weak and imperfect.
Perhaps we might want to take example from one of the older institutions of our great nation: The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., has two unique honors for graduating sailors: one for the graduate with the highest Order Of Merit (a combined rating of grades, military performance and physical conditioning) and, interestingly enough, one for the lowest OOM, titled the Anchor Man.
The Anchor Man is given this honor not in spite or jest, but to demonstrate that in an elite family, everyone from the bottom to the top is part of one body and therefore is critical and important. Anchor Men, though they may have graduated last, have not been barred from some of the highest levels of service -- many have become admirals, and all of them, irrespective of their rank, have served their country proudly.
Why? Because, as some of us have forgotten, true potential is not a measure of mind or muscle, but spirit and heart. It's as the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: "Look at a man the way that he is, he only becomes worse. But look at him as if he were what he could be, and then he becomes what he should be."
Those who desire only first-time winners and first-time qualifiers are setting our country and community up for failure. Patience and compassion teach us to value everyone and to bestow the courtesy of reverence upon the strong and the weak, the wise and the foolish alike. Patience and compassion allow us to be persistent in fighting or working for things that take time -- not strength -- and patience and compassion allow us to live in peace rather than jealousy and fear.
WHEN I READ about athletes such as Michelle Wie, the first thing that comes to my mind is, "Thank God that Hawaii has someone representing it." I honestly couldn't care less whether she qualified or failed to qualify, whether her wrist injury was genuine or the thousand other things people are upset about -- what counts is that she is one of our own, and no matter what, we should stand by our people.
We who live in Hawaii say "Mahalo," which is literally interpreted to mean "thank you for making me a part of your spirit." It's time to start making more people a part of our spirit by celebrating above all else their humanity, not simply their accomplishments, and by having the patience to believe that everyone has a purpose, be it small or large -- because not everyone can be a GQ model, a Mensa member or an Olympic athlete on their first try.
Strength and success without compassion and patience results in arrogance, and arrogance leads to corruption, and corruption breeds oppression. We should shun elitism and embrace the spirit of acceptance. Everyone with an elitist attitude should remember that those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger later ended up inside -- history is full of examples of people of superlative talent and success who were suddenly overthrown by those who were humble.
We can all succeed together, and as one -- if we walk in patience and compassion. Let's stop hating our own people and celebrate their humanity.
Daniel de Gracia II is a pastor at the International Christian Church and Bible School. He lives in Waipahu.