This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
When I think of "the American experience," the initial image that comes to mind is an aging man swaying back and forth on a creaking rocking chair on his porch, humming along to his favorite country tune. If only life in this nation was that simple. America is not the "land of opportunity," and Americans are not a hopeful people living lives centered around hard work and family values. On the contrary, the American experience is an experience of arrogance that causes destruction in the lives of American citizens.
Living in a country whose name was once synonymous with words like "prosperity" and "wealth" is the greatest curse that could befall any citizen. Americans today play the role that their ancestors were cast centuries ago, putting on a façade of abundance, yet failing to realize their startling inadequacy. It is the knowledge that their nation was once the greatest in the world that inspires cancerous arrogance in Americans, for they believe that they are invincible and have the right and the ability to do whatever they please without facing any consequences.
American arrogance is highlighted all throughout history, but it is in the early 20th century that this pride is especially evident. The "Roaring Twenties" were a time in America's history filled with perhaps the greatest economic prosperity ever known to its people. Americans who had the pleasure of experiencing life during this time lived as every person deserves to live: no worries, no concern for the future. Having faith that the stock market would never stop rising, Americans began to consume as they never had before, and as demand rose, so did the level of confidence within every citizen. Certain that America would be unstoppable forever, Americans saw no reason to prepare for a catastrophe, and continued to live in the blissful moment.
The collective thought that Americans would infinitely bask in their ecstasy was the kindling that was needed to start a fire that would not stop burning for a decade. The Washington Times would call the Great Depression "the biggest financial crisis of the 20th century." There was destruction in the life of every person in the nation. I, however, have no sympathy for Americans in the 1930s. I am a firm believer that pride truly does come before a fall, and fall they did. Had Americans dismounted their high horses and come back down to Earth while the going was good, perhaps they could have made the necessary preparations for their future instead of being forced to regret their past.
Americans have not learned from their mistakes, but continue to convince themselves that they are superior to every other country. As a nation, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that they are held to the same ethical standards as the rest of the world. In the eyes of the citizens of this nation, Americans' "superiority" gives them the right to do as they please. But this confidence is destroying the environment.
Americans believe that the inevitable environmental turmoil of the future will not affect them, and continue to waste copious amounts of energy, water and resources that will not be renewed in this lifetime. According to environmentalist and author G. Tyler Miller, Jr., "The average American [consumes] as much energy in one day as a person in the poorest countries consumes in a year." Americans, as inhabitants of a developed country, have the responsibility to posterity to make a conscious effort to decrease the size of humans' ecological footprint. In their minds, however, Americans should not have to comply with the conservation rules of other nations. Their nation, they believe, is superior. In the future, when mineral and oil resources are depleted, the water is too polluted to drink, and the ozone layer is but a memory, members of the human population will have American pride to thank for an uninhabitable planet.
As a citizen of this nation, I experience America in its purest form daily, and as I have grown up, the patriotism I have felt for America has slowly been replaced by shame. I am ashamed to live in a place whose name connotes strength, but that houses the weakest of all people. And I am embarrassed to look around me and face nothing but a people infected with the belief that they are superior, when they could easily be cured with a dose of humility.