When I was in boot camp back in ’03, I’ll never forget what my chief told us the day before graduation. He said he had never seen a group of people refuse to try and work together the way we did. He wasn’t wrong. When everyone wants to take charge, to be the leader, to be right all the time, then no one listens to each other.
Americans are a nation of selfish people. It’s true. We are taught at a young age that being the best is all that matters. You are only rewarded in life if you are the best and you can only be the best if you look out for number one.
In elementary school, the line leader was the most well behaved kid. First place in the science fair had the “best” project. Rewards were given for highest grades in class, like certificates and exceptions from tests. Hell, if you came to school every day, you got perfect attendance. Sick? Contagious? Who cares, gotta get that perfect attendance award! Why, even at home parents were giving us cash for A’s and B’s. More incentive to be the best.
This led to high school and even college years of late nights drinking coffee or energy drinks, studying over and over because that perfect grade was all that mattered. There were no rewards for tutoring. No certificates for improving your studying techniques over the school year. No, it was all about being the best.
Nothing changed as adults. Our jobs are just as competitive. You are rewarded with a raise or a promotion but only if you can prove that you are better than everyone else. That you work harder, faster, and produce better results. No one cares if you work well as a team. Hell, even Amazon rewards authors who have the most reviews, regardless of story quality. There is no “A” for effort in real life. There are only those considered winners.
So is it any wonder, with all this focus on being number one, that we are so selfish? Was it really that big of a surprise that people refused to work together to stop a pandemic? We want to be the richest, smartest nation in the world. But any of us that fall behind are left there in the dust.
It’s time we shifted our priorities. Maybe instead of worrying if our house is nicer than Joe Blow down the street, we worried about the guy living behind the dumpster. Maybe we teach our kids that getting a better grade than Sammy in class does not mean you are better than them. Maybe wear a mask not just for you, but for that kid down the street whose immune system is shot. Maybe help that mother in the line at the grocery store who realized too late that she didn’t have enough money for baby food. Maybe give that struggling new author tips on how to get their work out there. Maybe push for elected officials who will stop giving tax cuts to the rich and who actually have compassion for their fellow man. Maybe, just maybe, if we were a little less worried about helping ourselves, if we stopped rewarding others for climbing on top of everyone else, then we would actually be the best.
We could all be our best selves together.