In an Arizona hotel room eating a holiday leftover dinner that I reheated in the microwave, I nearly spit out my bite of green bean casserole when the evening news highlighted another disturbing trend in America—“this year may go down as one of the worst years for drunk-driving deaths.” Just one more disturbing trend in a country where electoral votes echoed the slogan to “Make America Great Again.”
Meanwhile, earlier statistics tag suicide as one of the leading causes of death in America. Obesity takes the No. 2 spot for preventable death, right behind tobacco as the leading cause for preventable death in the United States.
It seems like America is collapsing on itself—in direct parallel to our collapsing environment.
I heard the cry from those who found a cause in the “Make America Great Again” slogan while driving through an 89 percent white population in an Arizona county laden with gun and porn shops, and where 77 percent of November’s votes went to the Republican ticket. The suicide rate in this county is the third highest in Arizona, feeding Arizona’s ninth position for most suicides per year in America. The most likely suicide is by an older (age 45-plus) white male—most deaths caused by firearms. Apparently, America’s angry white men have transitioned into depressed white men implementing their Second Amendment rights.
I use Arizona as an example because it’s one of America’s most beautiful states with open space and natural features that do make American great. Arizona also faces complex environmental issues.
Statistics for this one county include a lower median income—about 29 percent below the national median income, but not at poverty rates. I can’t speak to job opportunity before and after 2008, although the latest statistics show unemployment at a little more than 7 percent. These numbers appear to parallel the downside of what is going on in America for those in rural regions.
When I read, “This year  may go down as one of the worst years for drunk-driving deaths. On average, 28 people a day have been killed in DUI accidents,” it makes me question our society’s internal stability. And I haven’t begun to explore rising drug abuse issues in this piece.
The only way America stays great is to make you and I great again—inside and outside. Using the nearly worn-out but relevant adage, “Let peace begin with me,” it’s clearly time to let greatness begin with me.
The operative phrase I’ve used here is “preventable deaths.” From obesity downward to substance abuse, we make the personal choice to overeat, smoke, drink, and so on. Even if you or I might be genetically inclined to these personal abuses, we still make the choice to take those paths. And once habit and addiction sets in, we sever the internal ties to make us great within.
Life can suck. Life can smash mud pies in our face. Life can be nothing but driving on black ice. It’s how we navigate these challenges that makes us strong or weak. It’s how we choose our next move when tragedy knocks the breath from us. It’s how we let our minds think, our hearts feel, and our words be heard that influence our future.
It’s the most challenging work I know. On all levels of greatness or possibility, I haven’t swung past the second rung. False comfort is more easily achieved. It’s the great life-trickster.
Until we walk away from the biggy fries and walk in nature instead, we won’t be that great. Until we believe the scientific fact that smoking will likely be the reason for our death (and the unintended death of others), we won’t be that great. Until we end the stupidity of drunk driving, we won’t be that great. Until we seek positive ways, including re-educating ourselves when local industry leaves, we won’t be that great. Until we quit blaming something or someone else for our shortcomings, we won’t be that great.
And for those who describe themselves as already great, without compassion you are not that great.
No matter how you spin it, it all comes back to compassion—compassion for self and compassion for others. That is what has and will keep America great. It’s not more and bigger bombs. It’s not plutocrats and oligarchs. It’s not prognosticators and talking heads. It’s you and I finding the middle way to greatness—a soul rich in kindness and a curious mind exploring possibility. It’s you and I putting emphasis on the personal in personal responsibility—while remaining considerate of those persons, who for reasons outside of their control, have collapsed into desolation row. This is when we can take personal responsibility and apply it in a most positive way through compassion, knowing that all any of us want is to find joy and peace.