An early copy of a thought provoking book on the decline of America’s value and strength (and why) arrived on my doorstep about a week ago and I couldn’t put it down. In an empowering call to action at a time when many feel powerless, Rescue America authors Chris M. Salamone and professor Gilbert inspire readers to take action to change the course of this country.
America’s founding values and the leadership and the leadership traits that embodied them gave rise to the greatest nation on earth. Their attractive power enticed millions of immigrants to leave the comforts and security of their homelands for the promise of hope, opportunity, and a liberty the world had never known. They also unleashed an entrepreneurial spirit that created unparalleled prosperity and spawned the greatest generosity ever exhibited by a nation or its citizens.
Upon this irrefutable premise, and filled with plenty of historical and philosophical references and data to support its arguments, Rescue America creates clear and specific connections between the loss of our founding values and the current challenges facing our nation.
What is necessary, the book asserts, is a fundamental shift back toward a national embodiment of the three primary leadership qualities that sustain all lasting human institutions: gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice.
It is through the resurrection of these essential qualities in every American —and a rejection of the pervasive attitude of entitlement and culture of complaint—that the spirit of America will once again empower its citizens and inspire the world.
When I asked Salamone what inspired him most, he talked of his involvement in leadership development programs for teenagers for the past twenty years. He says, “I believe so strongly that the greatest asset of any nation is its people (human capital), and particularly, its young people who represent the FUTURE of the United States.”
He had planned to write a book on leadership and when he sat down to write it in early 2010, at a time when the world and our country seemed to be falling apart, he started looking at broader issues, such as the foundation of leadership principles.
Many of these principles which are so incredibly necessary for young people to achieve extraordinary results in their life, are the very same leadership principles upon which this great nation was founded and built — the Principles of Gratitude – Personal Responsibility – and Sacrifice.
“So,” adds Chris, “rather than just write a book on leadership, I decided to do something a little more meaningful and significant and Rescue America was born. I also felt it was important to write a book that was ‘above the fray’ — in other words, a book that in my opinion is non-partisan and does not engage in the typical political bickering and name calling– a book that focused on the fundamental cause of our nations greatness, and thus the root cause of our decline.”
The book is broken down into three parts: THEN: The Dawn of a Dynasty, NOW: America in Decline and HOW: What Americans Can Do for America. The Dawn of a Dynasty covers the Inheritance We Died For, the Standard We Stood For and the Future We Fought For.
In the first chapter, the duo makes countless references to American history, the Constitution, the principles behind freedom and what it means to be “free.” They take a deeper look at the Declaration of Independence, why it was created and what our forefathers wanted for Americans as a result. Equality and improving the human condition was a large part of what the “greats” who ran this country wanted; they also wanted a unified America.
Adam Smith is quoted on equality: “The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful a principle…(it is) capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity…(and) surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions.”
He also refers to Thomas Jefferson, who they assert didn’t propose an ideal on equality, but rather recognized and acknowledged an equality that already existed. In principle, Jeffersonian equality refers to a number of concepts that make up equality as an American ideal, they write.
We are brought on an in-depth journey through the nation’s history, which is a great reminder of all the important values we studied so long ago and yet as a nation, never talk about anymore in what has become an entitled society.
For someone who has traveled to over 70 counties and lived in ten, it made me think about immigrants of this generation with new eyes…how lucky I was to be part of a previous generation whose core principles – personal responsibility and sacrifice — were at the core of their existence and demonstrated in their daily behavior, all of which taught me how to live and more importantly, be.
Entitled society = attitude of entitlement (aka doing whatever we please) and more and more, its being done without regard to consequences. What Jefferson meant by the Pursuit of Happiness and a “free” America was the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness that one is free to become the best self that one is capable of becoming.
I love this as much as I love the benefits that Abraham Lincoln envisioned for Americans: the capacity and the freedom to choose, by the quality of one’s decisions and by the inherent value and ownership of the fruit of one’s labors. Said Lincoln: “The man who labored for another last year, this year labors for himself, and next year, he will hire others to work for him.”
This my friends is the America I grew up in; grandparents who wanted a better life for their children and their grandchildren and sacrificed significantly so they would achieve it. And, as a nation, we have achieved astonishing wealth. We are reminded that if you combined the wealth of the Greek, Roman, Chinese and English empires, the wealth generated in America over the recent century would supersede them. And yet, on this journey, we’ve lost a lot of important things along the way, the concept of gratitude being a big one.
Sure, we’ve been generous and given to many a’ nation, a generosity that is a “direct result of our economic vigor — aka a distinct parallel to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. Negative implications aside, look at America’s most recent effort and contribution in Haiti for example. And, for example, America’s efforts and action to end violence in the former Yugoslavia in the late nineties.
After we’re reminded of all the things we died for, stood for and fought for, we’re taken on a journey into present day: America in Decline. They explore the implications of our “now” attitude of entitlement and the culture of complaint. (it’s all around us). They discuss the redistribution and the political entitlement apparatus, as well as the nation’s debt, deficits and global weakness as a result.
We can’t dive into an in-depth discussion about the decline of America without taking a hard look at our education system and its ongoing decline decade after decade. As Plato said, “the direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future in life.”
The word direction is an interesting word since it doesn’t imply we necessary need advanced education in America to succeed (look at Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Tony Robbins and countless others). What it does imply is that the guidance we get and the direction we move from that guidance matters. That guidance is what makes up our core ethics, values, the way we treat others and the way we look at the world.
As more gets outsourced to Asia and American education remains in crisis mode, we are withholding the current generation from their birthright. Today’s youth are not being prepared to join a competitive global workforce or to contribute to the growth of America’s economy. They note that our declining education performances impact not only our nation’s economic position, but also our national resources. It also contributes to the creation and reinforces a culture of entitlement….”
They start the third and final section of the book with a Benjamin Franklin quote: “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.” Hear hear Benjamin. In the chapter entitled Personal Responsibility Can Combat Entitlement (great title), they ask the following question for us to ponder: “What happens when the principles that gave you all you possess eventually lead to distracting and damaging habits and attitudes that take you away from those principles and lead to the wasting away of prosperity? Do you abandon those principles, or do you recommit to them through discipline?”
Ahhh yes, that word discipline. It was in fact one of my grandfather’s top three values and while I fall into his workaholic footsteps, I find discipline harder than he did in my position 80 years ago. My generation has less of a community and family support network than the previous two and yet living costs are astronomical in comparison. We don’t have the stresses of internal wars or World War I and II on the other side of the pond, yet, stress is at an all time high and cancer and heart disease continuously go up and are affecting younger and younger people.
Salamone and Morris assert that in order to restore a sense of responsibility and obligation (fundamental American core values) to ourselves, our families, our communities, and to our country, “we must enter a process of reflection, restoration and recommitment.” Restore is the operative word here and restore we must before its too late.
It’s no surprise that the last chapter: The Power of One kicks off with John F. Kennedy’s quote on gratitude: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Live by them. Strong words…certainly strong words for the land I moved to earlier this decade – California. Nowhere else have I lived where people have been so adverse to commitment. A yes RSVP means a maybe at best and there’s no follow up to apologize for not showing up or standing by “your word,” as my grandfather taught us. It may very well be just a party or dinner, but this complacency and failing to live by your words extends to all areas of our lives. I’ve witnessed this time and time again.
Entitlement stands at polar odds with personal responsibility and gratitude. When we come from a place of gratitude, it’s astonishing what’s possible in our lives and how it trickles down to others around us. Everyone benefits when personal responsibility, values, ethics, honor, sacrifice and gratitude are embraced.
I strongly believe that gratitude is critical to restoring our spirit and our values, individually and collectively as a nation. The latter is essentially what they’re trying to drive home in addition to the fact that we can all make a difference, yes even if we stand as only “one.”
That said, I agree with their belief that it seems as if we live in a world where individuals no longer believe they matter or can make a difference. They write, “people feel helpless to influence the course of events that will shape their future and that of their children.” It’s actually a reason many career-driven friends I know have opted not to have children.
The book is a must read. From history, economics and politics to education, family values and spirituality, we are brought on an intellectual and emotional roller coaster ride. At the end, you can’t help but feel that we have no other choice but to commit to restoring the values that once made America great. We could be only one generation away from the best America and yet if we don’t take action, we could very well be one generation away from the worst we’ve ever seen.
When I asked Salamone what frustrated him most, he said that people don’t talk any more — particularly families. He says, “Families no longer sit down every night and across the dinner table share the ups and downs of the day… and pass along the stories of families heritages as they did when I was growing up. For most of my life there were at least 3 generations sitting together at a table every night. How could there not be a generational transfer of principles?”
He’s right. This has transferred in to our business and social lives — people no longer talk. They text, tweet or Facebook each other. Living in Silicon Valley, I’m a victim of this lifestyle more than most. Sometimes I’ll be online for 15 hours with only a short break to make food, which ends up by my side (and my computer’s side) while I sift through more email, more social network messages (I belong to 6) and more blog post comments. It doesn’t end.
I’m not suggesting that there’s not some benefit to new technologies, and nor is Chris, but I agree with the premise that “we have lost an important human interaction.” He refers to an old author named Leo Buscaglia who wrote a book called Living, Loving and Learning. He remembers Leo saying that he loves to “hug” people — even people he just met. He said something like ” I have to hug you to know you”. Of course he was Italian, but does it matter? Need I say more?
You can pre-order a copy here or go to Amazon.com or your favorite book store when the book is released on October 17, 2011. Proceeds from the book are being donated to the Wounded Warrior project.
Note: It’s only fitting that I publish this book review on my great grandmother’s birthday, who was instrumental in raising me together with my grandparents – may all three rest in peace. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made to pave the way for my freedom, the prosperous and joyful life I have and for a better America.
Photo 1: From Rescue America book cover.
Photo 2: Abe Lincoln Art from Art.com.
Photo 3: From Rescue America book back.
Photo 4: EducationFuture.Info site.
Photo 5: New Ten Commandments Website.