Damaged American Flag

The United States is Facing an Insurmountable Challenge — A Step We Can ALL Take To Make It Better

America is in a rough spot. How far down the abyss we go is unknown, but our individual and collective hubris and selfishness will certainly drive us deeper. The current stress is also certainly a test of our country's institutional strength and effectiveness.

Now more than ever we need a unifying vision, one that can harmonize our individual and collective agendas towards short and long-term success (win-win). Before we can grasp on to that vision, we must learn to let go.

In the ending of my parable of this life’s journey, the Island Story, the main character (who is you and I) is sinking fast towards the abyss of destruction. We're holding onto what's most important to us, but its an anchor driving us deeper towards the ocean floor. The swordfish, the final distraction along our journey, is encouraging and threatening us to hold on longer. She tells us to keep pushing forward when it’s clearly detrimental. As we descend, someone is telling us to let go. If we choose to listen, we discover that letting go will be what allows us to rise up. 

In this era of uncertainty, the dawn will come, but not without a period of darkness and a willingness to let go of our destructive tendencies. We each will play a part. We all will shape our future.

Collective Disillusionment 

When we entered 2020, almost everyone in our country did not expect the pandemic, economic, and social crises to unfold. Some of what's unraveled was brewing underneath the surface, accelerated by the health crisis that's played out.

The world we thought we lived in is not what we’re experiencing. The cracks in our institutional systems are being illuminated. Our individual and collective expectation bubbles have burst and now we’re facing a decision juncture. 

Will we hold on to the past or let it go? Will we focus on survival or set a vision for a better future? Will we accept the brutal facts, or will we actively resist the truth? Will we show love and generosity as we discover the path forward together?

On the other side or this upcoming and increasingly difficult journey, we can each choose to be a better person, and collectively, a better country. 

Choosing will come with a cost. But, not choosing will come with an even greater loss.

Our Challenges

"[Iron Man] We need your help. Look, it's not overselling to say that the fate of the universe is at stake.” - Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War

The brutal facts are just that, brutal. Our country is facing the "Great American Humbling". We’ve been brought to our knees by the following four challenges. Our brokenness is showing. 

As I write this, our country has over two-hundred thousand deaths from COVID-19 (over a million globally). And it's likely that this virus is something we'll have to live with indefinitely, although we'll have more tools to fight back. Parts of our population are wrongly dismissing these deaths for different reasons (underlying conditions, old age, etc...). It's okay to challenge the response to this health crisis, but it wrong to dehumanize people this way (Make your argument without trivializing human life).

As a result of the pandemic, we're experiencing an economic downturn, the extent of which is unknown. For Q2 2020, the United States faced a 32.9% economic contraction. We're going to see a wave of business bankruptcies (like Chuck E. Cheese, as a way to help many survive), and while the growth of unemployment has slowed, it is not in a healthy spot. One and four Americans have missed paying a bill. While it’s possible we bounce back in Q3 or Q4, as we saw after the imploding unemployment rate, our economy is going to be strained with permanent consequences as long as the virus is circulating and also during the recovery time to follow. And if the government stimulus kicked the can down the road to what would otherwise be a more drastic economic decline, we’re in for a challenging financial season ahead. 

As a result of the health and economic crisis, a perfect storm of factors has surfaced societal unrest, protests, riots, and violence across the nation. Segments of our population on both political sides are wrongly justifying the dehumanizing destruction and violence. 

It’s clear that our societal ills such as poverty, discrimination, government overreach, and crime have been areas of neglect. Even as we’ve made progress in these areas across the country, it’s not been universal for all our citizens. The digital social media era now provides unavoidable, and often confusing, visibility into the lost, dismissed, and forgotten pockets of our country. Our country is both literally and metaphorically sick while we are also fighting for our identity as we war over what is good and how we best respond.

From Chapter 6, The Changing World Order by Ray Dalio

At a global level, The United States is in decline. Our dollar is losing its grip, China's rise in the superpower ranks, and its aggression with Hong Kong and elsewhere is setting the stage for a major global challenge to our country and the world. The pandemic and our social crises may very well end up as a season of testing for the more severe challenges ahead which very well could lead to serious and enduring consequences. Consumed by our internal issues, most citizens are unaware of the global threats we face. 

And these four broad issues I’ve illuminated are simply highly pressing ones that don’t emphasize the importance of sustaining the good institutions (as well as fixing the dysfunctional ones) in our country that prevent many other problems from being added to this list (or that simply require less urgency right now). Add a highly polarized and potentially murky presidential election, a hotly contested Supreme Court replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, uncertainty in the presidential election results, a chaotic president, and we’ve got a pivotal and perpetual challenge ahead of us!

We’re dealing with complex issues of which we’re all entangled. Individually, it may seem like there is little action any one of us can do, but with a strong vision, our individual actions towards a common destination could change the trajectory of our life, community, country, and the world. But, before we can embrace a compelling and effective vision, we must be willing to let go. 

Letting Go 

In the classic film, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, our hero finally finds the Holy Grail originally sought out by his father. The legendary cup was created by Jesus of Nazareth and imbues its drinker with supernatural healing and everlasting health. 

Moments after healing his father from a gunshot wound with the holy grail water, the temple cracks as the earth begins shaking around them triggered by Elsa’s crossing of the temple seal. As the building splits, the holy grail falls to a nook on the edge of the chasm and Elsa slips grabbing Indiana’s hand as she hangs on for dear life. Lured by the Holy Grail, Elsa reaches for the sacred cup while Indiana tells her to grab his other hand because he is losing his hold. She doesn’t listen and Elsa quickly falls to her death. 

As the temple continues shaking, Indiana slips and falls as his father grabs his hand. Like Elsa, Indy now grasps for the Holy Grail as his father directs him to let it go. For a moment, he contemplates whether he listens to his father or he grabs for the artifact. After choosing to listen to his father, he grabs his dad's hand and is lifted out of the abyss and to safety.

This powerful moment in the iconic film is an inspirational story for us during these politically charged times. Will we grab for the grail or let go?

Escalation & Rising Above

Often in a hostile divorce, there is a spiraling of toxic escalation. One person hurts the other and they retaliate in a cycle of revenge. Their ego, pain, anger, and fear drive them beyond what either expected when they made their vows, and the marriage dramatically comes to an end. Both are devastated and the kids are casualties. 

To prevent this unfortunate end, one of them (often the more mature person) must choose to stop the cycle and no longer participate in it. Ideally, one chooses to not only stop the escalation but participate in repairing the relationship. 

To be the one that rises above requires we let go, like the Elsa in another movie (Frozen) tells us.

What are you holding onto that’s contributing to the destruction? In your life? Your family? Your community? Your Country?

Do you have a high view of yourself and a low view of those you don’t like? Do you need to let go of your superiority complex? 

Do you have disdain or hatred towards a person, a political party, or a leader that you need to let go? Do you need to stop broadcasting your disdain on social media?

Do you care more about power and control than you do the people you hurt along the way? Do you need to let go of what’s driving your need for this pursuit?

Do you often condemn, criticize, and accuse others of the worst without consideration of the full story? Do you need to let go of your zeal and blinding anger?

Do you dismiss and ignore the injustices of others? Is it time to let go of your apathy?

While we may have real reasons that have shaped these mindsets, beliefs, and our subsequent actions, they are also the thing that is worsening our situation. We must let go of what’s holding us back and what’s destroying others (directly or indirectly) to move forward. 

The Unpleasant Reality

Unfortunately, I don’t expect this to happen, at least for everyone. Most people won’t magically just let go. Many people can’t. 

It will get worse before it gets better and countless people will have regrets when they look back at this season of life and our country. I have those from past seasons of my own life.

Like Elsa from Indiana Jones, some will fall into the chasm to their destruction. Others, like Indy, will let go and lead forward. 

Which path do you prefer? Which do you pray for? 

Are you holding onto something you shouldn't? Will you let go so we can move our country forward?

What matters and is good won’t disappear after you lake this step. In fact, letting go could plant and nurture the seeds for the flourishing of us all. 

Embracing our limitations and fallibility provides the opportunity to become the person, community, and country that can overcome the complex challenges we now face and the bigger ones ahead.

Doing so will require the recognition that we are no different than the individuals and groups we villainize. We are the same, for good or ill. Once we’ve recognized our brokenness and need for redemption, our humility ushers in solutions. 

Perhaps a humble path will prepare us for a vision that can lead us out of this chaos towards a stronger flourishing foundation for us all. 

That humbling is here and will continue. How bad it gets is up to us. 

Additional Resources

Hero Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

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