Capable Capable
Capable Capable

The importance of knowing you are an American

Years ago I wrote about the natural and cultural competitive struggle for position. I said that each of us, here in America, is a contender for life and lifestyle whether or not we consciously choose to be.

In fact, it was rough out there then. And it’s still rough. The antagonism is rampant. Often mean. At whatever level we compete, we are a rivalrous bunch, born in need of tutoring, training and tempering. Indeed, in this arena, competent and not-so-competent contenders alike should be prepared to take blows, at the very least to their image if not to their position.

Because of the inevitability and persistence of the challenge, it is important to acquire the tools to negotiate the shared reality we inhabit and the systemic realities that inhabit us. And given that we house no permanent or solid anchor of stability that is impervious to antagonism, foul play and loss, anxiety is to be expected.

It is also important for us to know that we are Americans. We must recognize that even as it struggles and too often fails with leveling the playing field, it is constitutionally grounded America that universalized autonomy within its borders. What we share in common is not our ethnic or religious backgrounds but our embrace of the principles of liberty and equality for all.

These principles are more than abstractions. They are alive and practiced because America grants and holds each of us accountable for responsibly framed communicative and cognitive behavioral control over our lives. And it is the promise of achieving a meaningful and rewarding life inclusive of utility, relationships, well-being and even free time that makes being trustworthy, responsible and resilient worthwhile.

Being an American in this light puts us at home in the world. Yes, we are well aware that equal opportunity is still only a hope for many. Yet when we recognize that we are, indeed, affiliated and enfranchised citizens, we see that we can make our home by deferring to reason, rationality, objectivity, decency and decorum when we think, communicate and act.   

In America’s subjective ecosystem, the operative center of autonomy and life is the ego-function. It is this function that transforms simplistic brute animals into constitutionally determined, independent individuals. 

As we find ourselves more able to manage our ego-function, we also find ourselves more motivated and in charge of who we are. We can recover more quickly from blows to our image, from the slings and arrows of everyday bad news and from the numerous disappointments that accompany the fallout of competition. As a result, we find ourselves stewards of the civilizing discourse, grounded as it is in the elite range of the collective vocabulary of America’s constitutional determinism.

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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.