Recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote an open letter to Americans that was published on the opinion page of “The New York Times.” While I believe his letter was well intentioned, he certainly offended a good number of Americans. While his letter covered several topics, I believe he made a faux pas was when he stated that he disagreed with President Obama’s assertion that Americans, as a people, are exceptional. He went so far as to chide Obama and Americans by saying that “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” He goes on to say, “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessing, we must not forget that God created us all equal.” While I am not a leader of a country, I do live in one where I can go on record as saying that Putin is wrong.
I have four children. They are all different and have their own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. While my kids have had certain advantages in life, they have also had to endure many unique challenges. My kids from my first marriage had to witness their father’s slow decent into alcoholism and our subsequent and messy divorce. They had to be in the vehicle when their dad was arrested for drunk driving, and had to live with the fact that he was incarcerated. All four of them have had to endure financial struggles, educational challenges, and medical issues.
While on a grand scale, these may seem like ordinary, potential setbacks many of us encounter, but they could derail people who do not have strong character. While they have all had their fair share of mistakes, they have overcome the obstacles that have been placed in their respective ways. To face life’s challenges head on and to come through on the other side, staying strong, learning a lesson or two, and benefitting from the adversity — I’m sorry but I am never going to tell my children that they are anything less than exceptional.
The sheer fact that they are blessed to be from a country that prides itself on being a place where you can choose to express your beliefs, practice your religion, and publicly disagree with your own government, well, that is truly exceptional. Americans set the standard for compassion by helping other countries financially, medically, militarily, and every other way possible. That, too, makes us exceptional people.
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America has its fair share of problems, no doubt—it’s how we handle them that is what makes us different from the other countries on this planet. What is your country known for, Mr. Putin? That’s right, vodka and Siberia. I can name many exceptional Americans, but not too many Russians. Maybe because we foster exceptionalism—if you set the expectation of greatness, people will rise to the occasion. If you foster mediocrity, then that is what your nation will produce—mediocrity. It’s not dangerous to encourage people to believe that they are exceptional, Mr. Putin; it’s dangerous to not encourage them to believe this! Now, granted, Americans have a way of coming off as arrogant. We’re boastful, we gloat, sometimes we act like spoiled children; it’s true. But when it comes down to who you want on your team, in your corner—most countries would enthusiastically say the United States of America. We are considered the land of opportunity and people come here in droves, at great risk, to better their lives. If that is not exceptional, I don’t know what is.
So, no Mr. Putin, I will not tell my children that they are not exceptional. While my country is far from perfect, I won’t apologize for my exceptional countrymen. While you are entitled to your opinion about my country—and the freedom to express it openly in our newspapers—I believe you need to check yourself when it comes to pointing the finger of arrogance.
How you can say to our country, “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessing, we must not forget that God created us all equal”, when you sign an anti-gay propaganda law in your country? This law prohibits the discussion of gay rights or relationships anywhere a child might hear it. That, to me, doesn’t sound too equal, nor is it exceptional. What I do think, Mr. Putin, is that a leader of another country needs to write a letter to you and your countrymen; one that explains it’s not nice to call out other countries for their perceived shortcomings when your country is basking in hypocrisy.
While you may not share my belief, Mr. Putin, you and whomever else are able to express that dissension in my country, and that is exceptional. God Bless America, land that I unforgivingly love.