During my 5+ years in the States, I’ve learned that no single description about the country is accurate. Its large size, ethnic diversity, conflicting ideologies, and tenacious history make it difficult to describe. It’s a country with mind-boggling poverty and jaw-dropping opulence. It’s rural Iowa and cosmopolitan New York City. It’s a nation of oxymorons. All you have to do is travel from one state to the next. I am, therefor, cautious when describing characteristics.
That said, there is one ideology that seems ubiquitous in America: independence. And, as you’d expect, the ideology has much to do with the country’s roots. America was founded with the intention to form a society that held a unique view of government. The first settlers left their former countries due to lack of freedom and relocated to the New World with independence and personal freedom in mind. In 1776, America had already begun to adopt these ideologies with its Declaration of Independence, setting the tone for the country’s future. This individualism does not preclude the incredible hospitality (and generosity) I wrote about in my last post, and which we are witnessing right now faced with the most horrific fires in Californian history.
Those living in the U.S. have been conditioned to value independence more than almost anything else. It’s about standing on one’s own two feet, taking responsibility for one’s life, creating the conditions for personal happiness. Living the life of one’s dreams. For many it is the freedom to choose, in every moment of every day. It doesn’t matter how “small” or “large” the choice seems, from what to eat for breakfast to what career path to take – it’s the fact that one always has freedom of choice that matters. And, it is true in my experience that I feel like anything is possible here. I came with a dream that many deemed impossible, and so far, I’m able to realize it, little by little. But I would be negligent if I didn’t add that while this is true for many, I don’t believe all sectors of society experience this freedom and independence the same way, especially minorities, the incarcerated, the indigenous people etc..
Independence and individualism have had a significant and positive effect on innovation in the USA. They have allowed Americans to be pioneers in fields such as science and technology—Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were scientists and inventors—industry, entertainment, the arts, and every other field that contributes to life and prosperity. Personal accomplishments such as important discoveries, innovations, or great artistic achievements are rewarded. Americans love to celebrate an individual-minded U.S. culture that has produced great innovators such as Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs.
Ultimately I think independence can be a developmental stepping stone to a healthier variety of interdependence and community. The USA is a nation powerful with ideas and capable of munificent grace. The immensity of choice protected by the law of the land continues to evolve.
In the memoir, The Glass Castle, the mom is enthralled by the Joshua tree she sees driving from San Francisco to the Mojave Desert, which has grown in the direction of the wind rather than standing up straight. The Joshua tree symbolizes the strength and beauty that can arise from dysfunction. As Mom tells young Jeanette, the tree’s fight for existence is what gives the tree its imperfect beauty.
Mom frowned at me. “You’d be destroying what makes it special,” she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.” (The Glass Castle by Jeanette Winters)
I saw my first Joshua trees in 2011, while visiting a friend in Lancaster, CA. Joshua Tree National Park doesn’t have the majestic flair of towering mountains or deep canyons, but it has a charm and beauty of its own. While Joshua Tree sits very much in the desert (two of them, in fact), it’s far from flat. The northern part of the park, set in the higher Mojave Desert, is a labyrinth of boulders and rock formations, and it’s in this half of the park that its namesake trees grow in abundance making it a wonderful place for a drive or a hike when the weather is cooler. I went at dawn in August and it was already scorching.
Another area to explore is Jumbo Rocks. Rather than a trail, this area is great for some boulder scrambling. The most prominent feature here is Skull Rock which is visible from the road–you’ll know it when you see it!