American self discovery (finally, a use for my English major)

I finished Slaughterhouse-Five today on my way across Jerusalem. One of the most finger-pointing themes of the book – relevant to me these days – is expressed in the following lines, by character Howard W. Campbell Jr., as he describes American prisoners of war compared to others.

“[Americans] were known everywhere to be the most self-pitying, least fraternal, and dirtiest of all… They were incapable of concerted action on their own behalf. They despised any leader from among their own number… on the grounds that he was no better than they were…” (pg 131)

Reading between the lines, I can’t help but agree with author Vonnegut in his description of the American sense of self. There is an awful lot of self pitying and individualism, to the point of selfishness. Very little of the collective. Not much is  bigger than your own self. I’m all for defining your own individuality, but also incorporating the collective that surrounds us.

The longer I’m here, outside the U.S. – away from that mentality – the more patient I’ve become, accepting and aware of the higher powers in my universe. I don’t feel that I’m owed anything; in fact, I feel lucky when given some kind of rite or favor. My work ethic has expanded from plain working hard to working hard as part of a greater society, where I must work hard for the greater good. I am responsible for myself, and when things don’t go my way – well, that’s just life.  

I appreciate what the last three years in Israel have taught me about my American self and my other-word self. I think that it’s when you step out of your self that you can truly realize what you are composed of.

And for now, I’m ok with what I’m finding.





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