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.
The atmosphere of the United States of America today is, in one word, competitive. The quest for individual achievement has consumed us, taking over almost every aspect of our lives. From applying to colleges to campaigning for the presidential candidacy, we are constantly striving for individual success and supremacy above all, and everyone, else. This attitude has not always been as blatantly clear as it is today, but an underlying thirst for power and dominance has been driving America and her people from the very beginning.
Starting as early as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the United States has been adamant about and dedicated to presenting a powerful image of a strong, united nation to the rest of the world. Even our current pledge of allegiance contains an overwhelming number of claims of patriotism and nationalism:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America and to the republic for which is stands, one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all."
Students in classrooms across the nation may still recite this pledge every morning with their hands held over their hearts, but can we honestly say that every value and idea presented here is upheld by all of America's people? Greed and the struggle for personal glory have stomped out and devoured any of the specious claims that suggest, as individuals, we care about the success and happiness of everyone, and not just ourselves.
When the industrial revolution hit the United States at the start of the 20th century, the development of industry and the integration of new technologies into the stumbling society of post-Civil War America held great promise in boosting the national economy and providing jobs for the unemployed. However, the true potential of these innovations was never fully recognized, and only the captains of industry, or robber barons, were able to enjoy the benefits of the innovations. Men like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P Morgan acquired ridiculous amounts of money by monopolizing industries and paying their workers little to no money for working anywhere from10 to 15 hour shifts daily. The fact that these business mongrels were willing to sacrifice the safety, quality of life, and mental and physical health of thousands of poverty-stricken workers for their individual monetary gains demonstrates the "every man for himself "motto that Americans seem to have adopted.
This repulsive habit of personal advancement in exchange for anything or anyone also rears its ugly head today, however surprisingly, in youth sports. As someone who has grown up completely surrounded by travel soccer, I consider myself to be something of an expert on the hidden characteristics and under-the-radar conduct of competitive youth sports. I lived through, or rather, I survived, the cutthroat world that is girls national-level soccer. One might infer that in sports, especially youth sports, the concept of a united team and learning how to work together are the main focuses. But starting with even the youngest developmental leagues, individual accomplishments almost always trump those of the team as a whole. It is true that there is no feeling comparable to that of scoring your very first goal, but that joy should be driven not only by pride in yourself for your fantastic athletic feat, but also by the fact that you scored the goal for the entire team, not only for yourself. This idea is often lost on self-centered seven-year-olds, but if players forget the team aspect of sports as they get older, they hinder their own development as well as that of their team. Once players focus only on their own success, they are willing to trade anything to move up to the next level, even if it means abandoning their current team during a pivotal season. This concept of individual supremacy and advancement in America has infiltrated even the most basic parts of our society, and is constantly enforced at every age level.
Until this country, the so-called "United" States of America, can live up to the exaggeratedly united image it has created for itself, America will forever be divided by the desire for individual accomplishment and power. Greed and egotism have claimed a place at the top of the list of American characteristics, which is not something to be proud of. A country like the USA has so much potential, but it cannot develop into a truly strong society until its people decide to stop acting as individuals and start acting like one indivisible nation.