Who are we?

In 1980, I was living in Taiwan.  The English-language press there was then reporting the discussions in the U.S. about teaching religion or religious subjects in our schools.  One morning, I was riding to his office with a young Taiwanese executive with whom I had been working for some months.  As we passed a big, ugly brick building I was told by my friend that it was a school for all grades up through what we called high school.  I asked him if the students there were taught about the Confucian faith.  His answer — "Certainly. That's who we are." — has stuck in my mind since.

I realized that morning that the defining glue that bound the Taiwanese, and much of Eastern cultures, together was a common understanding of "who we are."  I have wondered since, especially during the last decade or so: do we know "who we are"?  Or is there any "who we are"?  I wonder how Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi would answer that question.  I wonder how many of our secondary school teachers could answer that question.

Who are we?  Are we the same people who, by the thousands, trekked across the western deserts and freezing plains to build a nation of farmers, ranchers, miners, and builders out of a barren wilderness?  Are we a nation of entrepreneurs who invented airplanes, mass-produced cars, invented electric lights, refrigerators, nuclear power, and moving pictures?  Are we the same people who assembled at Concord, Massachusetts to launch a war against the then most powerful nation in the world?  Are we the same people who joined together to build 120,000 airplanes a year and three ships a day and assembled a force of 11 million men in two years to defeat the powers of the world's oppressors?  Are we the same people who gave 600,000 lives in a war to affirm the principle that "all men are created equal," that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, notwithstanding their culture or capabilities?

Or are we a nation of 15% living on food stamps and the largess of others?  Are we a people who damn the successful among us, whose talents, efforts, and risk-taking give us the technical marvels of today's life?  Are we a people so dependent upon government caretaking that we will choose as leaders the most incompetent and corrupt simply to assure the continued access to the government's benefits?  Are we a people who today ignore the demands of responsible social conduct and responsibility for our progeny, simply to enjoy the transitory pleasures of adolescent conduct throughout our lives?

Do we know who we are?  Do we even care?  I wonder what my Taiwanese  friend would think.

In 1980, I was living in Taiwan.  The English-language press there was then reporting the discussions in the U.S. about teaching religion or religious subjects in our schools.  One morning, I was riding to his office with a young Taiwanese executive with whom I had been working for some months.  As we passed a big, ugly brick building I was told by my friend that it was a school for all grades up through what we called high school.  I asked him if the students there were taught about the Confucian faith.  His answer — "Certainly. That's who we are." — has stuck in my mind since.

I realized that morning that the defining glue that bound the Taiwanese, and much of Eastern cultures, together was a common understanding of "who we are."  I have wondered since, especially during the last decade or so: do we know "who we are"?  Or is there any "who we are"?  I wonder how Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi would answer that question.  I wonder how many of our secondary school teachers could answer that question.

Who are we?  Are we the same people who, by the thousands, trekked across the western deserts and freezing plains to build a nation of farmers, ranchers, miners, and builders out of a barren wilderness?  Are we a nation of entrepreneurs who invented airplanes, mass-produced cars, invented electric lights, refrigerators, nuclear power, and moving pictures?  Are we the same people who assembled at Concord, Massachusetts to launch a war against the then most powerful nation in the world?  Are we the same people who joined together to build 120,000 airplanes a year and three ships a day and assembled a force of 11 million men in two years to defeat the powers of the world's oppressors?  Are we the same people who gave 600,000 lives in a war to affirm the principle that "all men are created equal," that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, notwithstanding their culture or capabilities?

Or are we a nation of 15% living on food stamps and the largess of others?  Are we a people who damn the successful among us, whose talents, efforts, and risk-taking give us the technical marvels of today's life?  Are we a people so dependent upon government caretaking that we will choose as leaders the most incompetent and corrupt simply to assure the continued access to the government's benefits?  Are we a people who today ignore the demands of responsible social conduct and responsibility for our progeny, simply to enjoy the transitory pleasures of adolescent conduct throughout our lives?

Do we know who we are?  Do we even care?  I wonder what my Taiwanese  friend would think.