Losing Our Illusions

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 - 5:30am
Photo by Andrew Burton

Losing Our Illusions

A few years ago, my wife and I spent a week hiking on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, returning to a comfortable room at the lodge each night for what I fondly call “roughing it.” As we set out on our day hikes, we’d often see kids messing around at the edge of the Canyon where it would be easy to slip, fall, and die. If their parents were watching, they weren’t saying anything, and the kids responded to our warnings with the gimlet eye.

When we met a park ranger on the trail, I told him I was baffled by this parental neglect. He shook his head and said:

I’m not sure it’s outright neglect. A surprising number of folks think of the Canyon as a theme park, a fantasy land that may look dangerous but isn’t, where hidden nets will save you from injury or death. Every day I have to remind some people that the Canyon is real, and so are the consequences of a fall of hundreds of feet. I guess some people prefer illusions to reality — even though illusions can kill you.

The ranger named a problem larger and more pervasive than the fantasy that the Grand Canyon is Arizona’s Disneyland. We Americans prefer illusions to reality at every level of our common life, even though illusions can kill us. Why? Because indulging our illusions comforts us — especially when they’re supported by a culture that loves to play “let’s pretend.”

That culture goes back at least as far as 1776 when America proclaimed the “self-evident” truth that all people are created equal — then proceeded to disenfranchise women, commit genocide against Native Americans, and build an economy on the backs of enslaved human beings. Today, our culture of illusions threatens to take us over the edge, not only on basic issues of justice but in critical sectors of our society like education, religion, and politics.

Let’s start with education. Educating a child is a challenging job, especially when we get real about the world in which kids live. It’s a world where nearly one fourth of our children live in food-insufficient homes and come to school too hungry to learn; where public schools are starved for resources as the push to privatize K-12 education continues apace; where many kids need help with heartbreaking personal problems while schools can’t afford to hire counselors.

Truly educating a child would mean adapting to the circumstances of the children in our care, including such “extracurricular” services as providing morning nutrition for those who need it. We must teach core subjects, of course, and hold teachers accountable for results — but we also need to teach life skills like emotional intelligence, relational trust, and problem-solving. Put it all together, and truly educating a child is complex and costly, though not nearly as costly as failing to do so.

Confronted with hard realities, we’ve given up on educating children. Instead, we’ve become obsessed with non-stop high-stakes testing, driven by the illusion that passing standardized exams equals getting an education. One way or another, the test scores must go up — even if that means “teaching to the test,” or getting rid of “irrelevant” subjects like music and art that aren’t easily tested, or telling adults to alter kids’ answers if they are wrong.

Surely most of us know that being able to pass tests is a far cry from being educated. But in the face of education’s real challenges, we are too comforted by our illusions to mind the difference. In fact, we double down on our illusions by passing legislation (e.g., “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”) that multiplies the damage done to our kids, their teachers, and our schools.

Who’s the “we” behind all this? You and I and all who make up “We the People” — we who have allowed our legislators to give the “testing illusion” the power of law and have voted down the tax hikes that real education requires.

Audience members listen to Republican presidential hopeful and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answer questions at a town hall meeting in Hopkinton, New Hampshire on February 1, 2016.

(Andrew Burton / Bloomberg / Getty ImagesAll rights reserved.)

The world of organized religion is another place where we often favor illusion over reality. No, I’m not about to argue that faith is fantasy. As a person of faith, I believe we have two eyes: the eye of the mind and the eye of the heart. With one we see the empirical world as known to science and reason. With the other we see invisible realities as known in the great spiritual traditions, including secular humanism. Only when our eyes work together can we see life steadily and see it whole, or so I believe.

The problem is that too many lay people in the Christian churches — the only form of organized religion I know personally, as an insider — have embraced the illusion that we can avoid spiritual challenges by hiring clerical proxies. As long as we’re in the pews on Sunday and there’s a clergyperson up front reading the Scriptures and preaching the Word, we can pretend we’re making a personal spiritual journey. In truth, we’re on a bus touring the Holy Land, while an ordained driver speaks into a mic, telling us what we’re seeing and what it means.

The sadness is that “real church” — where lay people as well as clergy do inner spiritual work — can make a difference in the real world. Need evidence? See the Civil Rights Movement, where the “habits of the heart” nurtured in the black church by generations of African Americans flowered in the nonviolent movement that advanced racial justice in the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, there are many clergy who want the church to reclaim that kind of reality. They work hard to encourage the ministry of the laity in places like the family, the workplace, and civil society, and to transform passive parishioners into active communities of support for such ministries.

But woe be to the clergyperson who pursues that vision too vigorously. More than a few have been pushed out by lay people who insist on having paid professional who will “do their religion” for them. The notion that a person can have a spiritual life by proxy is as illusory as the notion that good test scores equal being educated. This kind of religious unreality is one of the reasons many have left the church in search of spiritual nourishment: illusions are thin soup.

Then there’s politics, a field so rife with illusions it’s hard to know where to begin. But there’s one persistent American illusion that leaps out at me: “exceptionalism,” the claim that “the United States is the greatest nation on earth.” That’s a claim that frequently takes us beyond the virtue of national pride and into the sin of national arrogance.

What makes that claim illusory is, of course, the facts. On global rankings of many serious social ills, the U.S. scores poorly compared to other countries — but how many of us accept that simple reality? I’m talking about things like mass shootings and other gun deaths, numbers and percentages of incarcerated citizens, infant mortality rates, and child poverty and all that goes with it. Then there’s the fact that the evil practice of enslaving human beings is still with us in disguise, as Michelle Alexander has persuasively argued in The New Jim Crow.

If America’s founders were to come back to check things out — having had a lot of time to contemplate and do penance for their own mortal sins — I don’t believe they’d buy the idea that our task in 2016 is to make America great again. After Googling “Trail of Tears,” “Civil War,” “the Great Depression,” “Japanese internment camps,” and “Vietnam,” to name just a few, they’d ask us to choose a period in U.S. history of which it could truly be said, “Back then, we were great!”

Next, the founders would remind us that, as early as 1787, they knew that the truly great American task would never be to reclaim a mythical utopian era. Instead, it would be to work forever on forging “a more perfect Union” — and the founders gave us a suite of political institutions brilliantly designed to do exactly that. It’s not their fault that “We the People” have allowed our leaders to lay waste to those institutions in recent years.

People listen as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during a Colorado Democratic party rally in Pueblo, Colorado on October 12, 2016.

(Brendan Smialowski / Getty ImagesAll rights reserved.)

I believe that most Americans want to take on the real problems bedeviling this country. Doing so demands that we dismantle the culture of illusions that blinds us to reality. Culture change is neither quick nor easy — it will take a long time to find our way through the smoke and mirrors. But all long journeys begin with one small step, so here’s a modest proposal: let’s reclaim “disillusionment” as a word that names a blessing rather than a curse.

When a friend says, “I’m so disillusioned!” about this or that, why do we say, “I’m so sorry! How can I help?” We ought to say, “Congratulations! You’ve just lost an illusion! That means you’ve moved that much closer to reality, the only place where it’s safe to stand!”

Right now we’re hip-deep in an election year that offers us a rare opportunity to become seriously disillusioned and more grounded in reality — not only about the state of the nation but of education and religion as well. When fact vs. fiction becomes a non-issue in politics, might it be because in school millions of us were taught to pass tests, but not to challenge claims, ask questions, do research, and think for ourselves? When millions of us find racism, bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia no barrier to high office, might it be because in church we let someone else “do religion” for us, allowing our unexamined inner lives to be polluted by a toxic fear of “otherness?”

As we lose our illusions, we’ll see reality more clearly and develop better solutions to our most pressing problems. As we embrace the fact that we don’t live in a theme park but on the rim of the Grand Canyon, we’ll understand the urgent need to walk ourselves and our kids back from the edge of the abyss onto solid ground.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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I am so glad you defined the "we" who have given up on educating children, because it surely isn't the teachers and counselors in the school buildings, those most maligned of professionals! With urban public school working conditions as challenging as they typically are, teachers who stay at the job are there only because they hope their determination, long hours, and spirit will prevail in providing every student with a meaningful education. Regardless of the emphasis on high stakes testing, teachers of kids in the younger grades give great attention to the needs of children to be loved, to be fed, to learn to get along... I have never visited a classroom in which a lower-grades teacher neglects these, typically buying extra food and supplies herself. That is just my experience in school buildings.
I agree that in politics people often cling hard to illusions, typically to gross oversimplifications of the underlying roots of problems which are actually extremely complex or to a belief that those who are working to solve problems simply must have nefarious intentions or are lazy or the problems would already be solved. Finger-pointing replaces acknowledging the real underlying challenges that are the more common reason a problem remains unsolved.

Thank you, Gabby, for enlarging on a point I would have made myself, had I been able to devote the whole column to education. I believe that the educators you point to are this country's "culture heroes" and "true first responders." To back my beliefs, 25 years ago I founded the Center for Courage & Renewal, one of whose flagship programs is called "The Courage to Teach" for K-12 educators. (I also wrote a book by the same name.) You can learn more about the Center and its programs at www.CourageRenewal.org or by clicking on my name as it appears with this reply. Most K-12 educators work hard to do the right thing for the children in their care, but they work without either understanding or support from the majority of the public, the press, and politicians. At the Center, we help educators renew their resolve, keep serving their students well, and transform the institutional conditions under which they work. Please pass the word along to all the educators you know! And thanks again for your comment.

A great analysis of our political reality, sad and scary reality

Thank you, as always, for pointing us toward hope!❤️

Thank you, Parker Palmer, for this honesty! May all our illusions crumble and may real care and compassion and health for our nation ( & everyone of us who comprise it) rise from the ashes!

What a refreshingly intelligent article! You have eloquently put into words the essence of my own thoughts. I truly needed your affirmation that I was not alone in thinking about education, religion, and politics this way. I too have been to the Grand Canyon but on a research trip so I had some very real experience with the canyon - no illusion here. It disturbed me greatly when I saw exactly the same kind of reaction from parents when I expressed concern for their child's welfare especially since I new all to well the instability of the rock. I seems to me that far to many people live in a fantasy daily and have come to reject truth out of habit.

We often claim we can not afford to do better while 57% of our budget goes to defense spending, then the cost of incarceration, and then pork fund projects. As you correctly pointed out we are not # 1 except for gun deaths, more than the next ten worst countries combined, infant mortality ranked worse than the top 27 countries, defense spending, more than Russia, China, and the top 5 countries combined. Our 15 year olds rank 27'th in the world on math and science. Our Nobel prize winners are immigrants educated in their home countries and if it were not for immigrants or first generation immigrant children, we would be depleted in jobs where exceptional science and mathematics knowledge is required. Countries that legalize drugs and treat addictions spend far less per capita on policing, incarceration, and hospitalizations for drug users. Scientifically and medically pot is far safer than alcohol and we know how well prohibition worked . You are right about religion which has more to do with how you actually live your life and practice daily rather than just showing up on Saturday or Sunday. You have discussed the major concerns that I have had for many years far better than I ever could. Since I was 5 and my mother was very sick, I wanted to be a doctor, but retired early so frustrated with a system that rewards expensive surgeries, procedures, and expensive drug treatments than prevention which can not be addressed in a 10-20 minute patient encounter. I did spend 1-1 1/2 hours with new patients and 30-45 minutes with follow up patients but had to work extremely long hours to do so, making far less per hour than teachers or nurses, and just doing what is recommended for preventive medicine. Can you imagine the challenges of evaluating and treating quadriplegic patients, but I did, ran a clinic for them, and lost money on each patient as Medicaid reimbursed less than my overhead costs, which was true also for my burn clinics, head injury clinics, etc. I did not go into medicine to become rich, but those who do are exceptionally rewarded. The true measure of prevention is longevity where the USA ranks 31'st. We are not # 1 except in the negative column.

All of what you just said is so true .. and it's sad that not only we live in this illusion but other countries think that we are #1 in many things until they immigrate to the US. I am one of them.. now disappointed that I don't have the choice to decide what my tax money should be spent on. I would want it to be spend on education and health care.. Sure all of this holds us back on many aspects.

Parker Palmer, in this season of baseball playoffs, you've hit a triple with this post. Education, religion, and politics -- we are suffering in each of these and we can't make the omelet of improvement without breaking a few eggs of illusion.

Love this. It seems there is a lot disillusionment going on this year. As painful and confusing as it might be, this is how healing happens, both individually and collectively. Thanks for the invitation to stay awake!

Excellent article. I wholeheartedly agree with the thesis that we, The American public, have become obsessed with fantasy and illusion over reality. It is nothing more than pure escapism. The movie industry, the Hollywood life style, television programing such as "reality tv" and constant advertising, which creates markets rather than provides for markets, have all led us down the path to a world of make-believe. The truth is, realty is so much more interesting and rewarding than fantasy could ever be. The natural world is truly amazing, far more so than any made up scheme of things.

As a 71 year old woman who places in context each point in this article, I totally agree with its stated challenge that 'we the people' must intervene now using the brilliantly established processes on which the United States was founded, never mind the illusions of its founders and the overwhelming illusions known as 'reality' this and that today, to restore and improve on an ongoing basis all of our systems starting with public education, equal opportunity and protection for all, and exclusively limited public campaign financing from this moment on.

A great article. As always you hit the mark. Please add to your list of illusions the illusion that behaviorist discipline models like PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Supports) can develop self disciplined students and adults. As Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and others have shown through their reviews of the research, rewards and punishments which form the basis of behaviorist approaches cannot teach the life long skills needed for ethical living. Behaviorist approaches all work from the premise of an external locus of control. Models like those of Glasser, Gossen, Curwin and Mendler, etc. based on an individual measuring his/her behavior against a set of shared beliefs helps students develop ethical behavior. The development of an intrinsic locus of control is a vital skill for an educated person and productive citizen.

Thank you for this powerful and insightful piece.

While I agree that this is an eye-opening article to those who remain unaware of U.S. history, the article also kept one-eye closed. It looked at only the dark underbelly of history, which is a common trait of liberal thinking. Before anyone turns me off in response to that statement, I just wanted to say how I learned that fact by listening to an On Being broadcast about the seemingly ingrained traits of conservatives and liberals revealed by research into human psychology.
One of your facts, used to show the U.S. as not "exceptional," the birth mortality rate needs a little more light shed on it. Why does the U.S. have a high birth-mortality rate? Mostly because of overweight mothers. Being overweight makes birth complications far more likely. So to fix this, education might be touted as the solution, but people have been told to exercise and eat in keeping with nutritional needs for decades. I remember being taught such things as a young boy even though I grew up in a rural setting. Isn't the failure of people to follow this wise advice a case of being able to bring a horse to water but being unable to make him drink? Who's responsible? Personally, I think it's the individual and it's obviously beyond the reach of the government.
This is only one example and I could go on with each of your points here, but time and space are limited. Your article, while rousing, needs to be better balanced and acknowledge all that is being attempted and done to right this nation.

'We the people' need to find the spaces where we seek solutions rather than reiterate our left/right, liberal/conservative views. There are great truths in both sides; there are great flaws in thinking on both sides. What do we DO about high birth mortality rates? Or any of the other divisive cultural challenges we face. Instead of bearing down on supporting our own beliefs and facts, we need to listen to each other and say: This is America. We can fix this. I appreciate your response, Roy. We can't have our dialogs support only our own viewpoint.

Thank you, Roy, for disagreeing with parts of my piece in such a civil manner, and for offering a clearly-stated viewpoint in a such a calm and rational way. Though you and I look at things from different standpoints, your post makes me feel that we could have a productive bridge-building conversation and I thank you for that.

We could start with the fact that we both care about the sad fates of too many infants in this country. If that's true, then -- as Janet says in her very helpful post -- the question becomes "What do we DO about high birth mortality rates?" I agree with you that personal decision-making is an important component of an individual's fate -- and, in the case of a mother, in her infant's fate.

I wonder if you'd agree with me that there's a link between poverty and the kind of diet that contributes to obesity which, in turn, contributes to infant mortality? If a mother needs to hold down two jobs in order to keep her family afloat, she'll not have time to prepare the healthy meals she'd doubtless like her kids to be eating, and cheap and unhealthy “fast food” will be the only viable solution. If she lives in a low-income neighborhood, healthy food is most likely to be unavailable at the stores within her reach (the vegetables, for example, are likely to halfway toward rotten). And if a Whole Foods store suddenly appeared on her block, the cost of their high-quality products will be out of range of this mother's pocketbook.

When you think about this mother in terms of her social and economic context, the range of decisions she can make that bear on her health and that of her children becomes quite narrow, as compared to the range of decisions someone like me has the privilege of making. I'm not saying that personal decision-making is irrelevant among the poor, but I do believe there are things government can do to widen their range of choices. And as an old community organizer, I know for a certainty that poor people want the best for their children just as much as I do, and when they are unable to provide it, it's a source of constant heartbreak.

One more thing, Roy, before I close: I understand why you found my column to be more downbeat than you believe warranted. I hope you will understand that the few hundred words I wrote on the topic of American illusions are far from the whole of what I think about life in this country, a country that both you and I love.

For a fuller expression of my views, please take a look at my 2011 book, "Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.” If you can find a way to get your address to me (maybe via the On Being staff), I’d be glad to send you a copy of that book as a token of my gratitude for your thoughtful comments, and as a way to continue this long-distance conversation between us.

Thanks again for helping all of us to think more deeply into some very important issues.

Thank you for this thoughtful piece. So much of what you stated is true- as a society, we have gone "all in" on living in a state of jingoistic perpetual positivity and illusions of freedom through consumerism. (My town has a Target, a Starbucks, a Barnes &Noble and a Panera so we are a "good" town and America is great!) When we are faced with the suffering of those who are not like us, most people blame that victim for their plight (Those inner city teens are lazy- look they sleep in class! Note: if you had to take 2 buses with transfers to get to school and were responsible for getting your younger siblings to school because your parents both work night shift jobs, you'd probably doze off too.)

However, I do feel that our multi cultural/ economic mash-up is the best thing about America. My young family is what Negin Farsad, a talented comedian, terms a Third Thing. Us: A U.S. born American who is ethnically Filipina but non-Tagalog speaking, native English speaker who fluently speaks Spanish married to a Caucasian American who's roots are in West Virginia and Poland. We are raising our young child in a bilingual Spanish/English home and are fortunate to have her in a public school that is Spanish immersion where 55% of the families are recent immigrants and qualify for FARM (Free and Reduced Meals). She and her friends are the bright future for this country .

Robust immigration makes it possible for the US to weather economic downturns better since our immigrant populations grow and support the economy by paying taxes and creating markets outside of conventional mega corporation realms. I hope that as a society we all can remember that our nation was built by people who fled persecution or unfavorable economic conditions so we should continue to welcome people to our nation.

Thank you for connecting our American hubris of "exceptionalism" to our larger problems. And I appreciate your re-framing of "disillusionment" into an opportunity for expansion.

Singing to the choir. Yes, I love your ideals. However, all of my life I've made what called The Rational Man's Mistake as described in the book Entangled Minds. It is irrational to expect people to be rational, they are not. Therefore, my question is: How can we provoke the nation to become more rational?

wanna keep my aspirations while being mindful of the gap; also an aside on education-we cannot expect a school to make up for all we don't have time to do because we are working jobs-that puts schools in a no win position of becoming responsible for an infinitude of supplies.

Thank you ever so much for naming this and may your words spread far and wide.
I'm weary of countering folks attempts to put me into that illusion and instead
calling them into step into the work of reality.

Peace, Rev. Ireland

Thank you, Parker Palmer, for these critically important insights. As a life-long Unitarian-Universalist I know it will take hard work, patience, and living our faith every day rather than having religion done for us, but I hope we as a nation can in time learn to choose to look one another in the eyes and see a good human being who, though they may hold an opposite view, is not the enemy.

I am reminded of the words of W H Auden " We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather sometimes die in our dread...than..Climb the cross of the moment and see our illusions die.

"Surely most of us know that being able to pass tests is a far cry from being educated" Stop! Right there! No "most of us" don't know that! Where the author's assumption comes about that topic is beyond me. That assumption is part and parcel to the illusion. Seems the author's taking his education for granted and not so mindful of the majority of students who attempt to achieve "grades" (not knowledge). Parents should be responsible to teach their children the philosophy and value of becoming learned.

The sentence as I wrote it does not reflect an assumption, but is instead an attempt at employing the rhetorical arts in support of my case. Among other things, "rhetoric" involves using language to persuade people instead of putting them off. The statement, "Surely most of us know that being able to pass tests is a far cry from being educated" is, for most readers, more inviting and persuasive than the statement, "Most of you don't know that the ability to pass tests is a far cry from being educated," so become responsible parents and teach your children "the philosophy and value of becoming learned." In addition, the former is more like to get people to stop and think instead of putting them on the defensive, as an imputation of ignorance almost inevitable does. English is a wonderful language, but sometimes one needs to put some "body English" on one's words instead of trying to mow the reader down with a flurry of authoritative bluster.

Dr. Palmer, I've long been a fan of your writing. But I feel a bit sad when I read, "It’s a world where nearly one fourth of our children live in food-insufficient homes and come to school too hungry to learn . . ." Actually, as you well know, it's a where "nearly one fourth of our children . . ." In much of the rest of the world the situation is far worse. Perhaps I'm being pedantic, but the tendency (endemic in the media) to treat "America" as if it "the world" all to often supports a cultural myopia that leads to illusions. Thanks for your attention.

Thank you, Ralph. Your point is well-taken. Though I wrote that sentence in the clear context of American kids and American education, I should have written something like this: "Educating a child is a challenging job, especially when we get real about the American landscape on which kids live. This is a country where nearly one fourth of our children live in food-insufficient homes and come to school too hungry to learn..." In the future, I'll be more mindful of the dangers of loose usage when it comes to the word "world." Thanks again for your measured and thoughtful critique.

Thank you for this.

It's very easy for me to see how in the ways you've described, many of us - certainly me included - bind themselves oftentimes to believing an illusory idea that when acted upon, may lead to outcomes in the physical world that are not in the best interest of families, society, or posterity.

You describe a conformity that permeates school, religion, politics - dogma that ll bows to one's own internal acceptance and too-often hidden understanding and responsibility, for questioning assumptions, however longstanding and from whatever their presumed external forces - and look internally to find and decipher what is wise in this current moment - to believe or else disregard, or even think at all.

Your work has shown a rare glimpse of what it's like to return from the place of physical consequence to that of the internal choices that were made to get us there. And when I say this, I mean e as an aggregate may grow and evolve I see is inevitable, an internal decision that led to there - and to the extent that we can realize our potential for questioning ourselves to derive a better outcome, and

Thank you once again for your clear and bell ringing prophetic voice, Parker.

Superb article.

After over 5,000 hours of study on global warming and climate change, I believe that greatest illusion we have is that our planet will endure despite our inattention to its welfare. The syndrome of crises facing civilization and our earth has now reached a point where dramatic and costly remedial program must be instigated and funded or Armageddon will envelope us within a few years.

Nonsensical belief systems (illusions) mislead far too many in the belief that the Creator will come to our rescue.

Amen.

Thank you for your eloquent article, and the compassionate hope you offer. As someone who lives in the Grand Canyon state, as well as being sometimes paralyzed by the disillusionment of our time, threads of hope are greatly valued. A culture of "illusion" is further enhanced by our addictive technology - the escape into cyberspace I see as people walk like they are hypnotized down the street with their cellphones, missing the breathing, living, "real" world all around them. Indeed, we are all in danger of falling off the edge of the Grand Canyon, and it is a very long fall indeed, a fall into blame instead of solutions, and a fall into the ultimate loss of even the ideal of democracy to the new corporate aristocracy, a tyranny that shows no evidence of being benign in a world facing climate change.

A great article and a good insight for non-US citizens.
However, there is one major illusion not being mentioned here; the position of the USA and its citizens throughout the world.
Despite seemingly popular belief on your side of the Great Pond you are not at all liked all that much. Your allies are turning your backs on you, others are coerced by force to keep the ranks closed, those who resist or do not as you command get crushed and shattered, leaving hordes of enemies in your wake. That is your position as a nation these days.
Wherever American people show up, there are looks of disdain and dislike directed at you, something of which many, maybe even all appear oblivious of. Some of these looks may be the result of the person in question's uncourteous, rude and/or arrogant behaviour and some might be the result of the general image many of us get of Americans, whatever the source may be.
You appear to have the illusion that you have many friends, who like you and would help in time of need, where as in truth you just might find yourselves all alone...
Of course I can only speak for myself, the people I meet and talk to on both sides of the line and the general vibe I pick up through media, be that mainstream or not.
America the greatest country in the world?
Over here my grandparent's generation would have agreed with you in 1945 and the years after. Their ancestors however are not equally willing to agree, thanks to your own doings.

Parker - I want to thank you for your essays, books, and interviews. I have benefitted from your sharing of thoughts and experience during the past few years. This essay, when it was released, particularly hit home. (The election, itself, opened my disillusionment even further). Thank you also for the story you have repeated about the woodcarver who finds a place to work beyond praise and blame. I think about it often as I pursue work in rehabilitative healthcare.

Yes, we do accept too many illusions as we ignore the Bigger picture and where we are letting ourselves be lead. How do we start to change,?