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To whom it may concern:

I think it is only fair to state from the beginning that I am not writing this letter of recommendation without qualms. In fact, as I sat down to write it, fingers poised over the keyboard, I struggled to figure out where to start—or if there even was a place to start—and that fact alone makes my heart ache. I do not want to have reservations when it comes to recommending the country I was born and raised in, but in light of recent, and not so recent events, I find that this is my reality. However, I think it is also only fair to say that my mind is not full of purely misgivings. That is why I can write this letter at all.

You see, countries, including the United States, are not unlike the people who inhabit them.

They are flawed, a mix of good and bad, from traits to decision-making. They also age. The history of human civilization is long—approximately 5,000 years if you’re looking solely at recorded history. The United States accounts for a small portion of that—just over 245 years. The history of other countries greatly dwarfs us.

So, if countries are people, then the USA is in the thick of its teenage years.

We are at the age when we are becoming more self-aware, able to examine our past and both cringe and look with horror on the things we have done (slavery, racism, and bigotry), and want to change. Of course, we also don’t want anyone pointing those moments/choices out to us, and if someone does, in our embarrassment, we many times retreat into our defensive stances. We want people to focus on the good we have done, the things we have contributed—and to some extent are right to—but we don’t want to always acknowledge that with praise can come criticism.

We can be self-centered and believe that we are the most important thing in the world. That our problems rate the highest, and that we have the best solutions to solve them without acknowledging that some people (countries) have been around longer, and sometimes may know the way better than us. Or that sometimes, our solutions have done more harm than good. We are myopic.

As much as we say we want to resist it, we let peer pressure guide us (money), and as such we don’t always follow logic or use it in our decision making (such as rallying against diverse books, masking policies, and discussion of sexual orientation, and viewing them as threats to our children and our society, while throwing up our hands in mock-futility when confronted with tackling the major loss of life and trauma that comes with gun violence, and simultaneously labelling any proposed solutions that may help get to the root of the problem as worthless or infringing on rights).

With an eye on the now, we make rash decisions without thinking of the long-ranging consequences (global warming). We think we are infallible when no one and no thing is. Countries, like people, fall.

Of course, many of these stereotypical teenage traits do not solely belong to that demographic, and there are plenty of other traits America posses that we can’t classify under one singe age group: divisiveness, a complicated relationship with the truth, waning empathy, a dearth of team working skills, the ability to identify hundreds of problems but not progress towards a single solution, a propensity towards choosing individual freedom over the health and safety of the whole. Such a combination, put on display day after day, exhausts those who encounter it, lessens their happiness, and raises their anxiety and hopelessness.

It makes America that annoying family member who hides behind bluster and accomplishment.

That family member who is high on their own hype and expects others to be as well, despite the fact they have also a long line of bad decisions to their name they’ve refused to address. That family member that induces moral quandaries and makes you strongly consider running away from the reunion, writing them off, and never seeing them again.

Or, if America is the teenager I suggest, then this would make it the frustrating, troublemaking adolescent whose choices we can’t understand, and leaves us asking “why are we trying? They’re beyond our help.”

It can be hard to reconcile the dreams we have and the potential we see with the stark reality of what is right in front of us.

As United States’ citizens, we may want to give up on our country, and chalk it up to a failed experiment. But we can’t. Because, like teenagers I believe, at the end of the day we want to do the right thing. Like teenagers, we can still choose our path. It is not too late to course correct. And the only way we can is by trying.

The United States of America is full of people trying, and it is in them that I find the inspiration, the hope, the why of this letter.

Although we seem to have lost sight of it at times—including present times—the vast majority of us believe that trying to do good for the good of all, for making the world a safer, healthier, better place to live, is worth it. We know that if we fail, cynicism, hatred, and indifference will win. Unfortunately, it feels like those evil forces are winning more and more in this moment.

But again, just when we’re ready to count the United States out, or plan our own escape, the attempts of one person, or a one thousand, reminds us that we shouldn’t do so. For every issue, there is someone to meet it. For every battle, there are those ready to fight it. Our “triers” are there, listening for the call that pulls them off the sidelines and into making change in ways big and small. We recognize that apathy is what kills us and will relegate us all to a state of stagnant terror, and worser fates, fates no one deserves.

It is on this point—effort—that I can recommend America.

On the one hand, we can be navel-gazers and have a distinct preoccupation with our own greatness, while on the other, we can see ourselves for what we are, and never give up on improving it. For all the mistakes we’ve made, the things we could’ve and should’ve done better, there is moment after moment where the masses have risen to the occasion—sometimes on those very moments we’ve made our blunders.

We’ve innovated, created, made scientific and social progress for not only ourselves, but those around the world. We’ve used the freedoms that other countries don’t always have—including the ability to criticize our own nation (ahem)—to hold those in power’s feet to the fire. We’ve fought to defend not only ourselves, but those around us. We’ve stood in the face of bigotry and sexism and demanded equality and respect and continue to do so over and over as we watch people and institutions fall short. We’ve done things people have never thought possible. We’ve sought better for the world.

We’ve tried, and we keep trying.

So, as you consider America among the rest of the nations, please know it is flawed. I won’t recommend it to you based on safety, as many times we focus so much attention on the threats beyond our borders that we turn away from those spawning from within them. I won’t recommend it to you based on the percentage of problems solved, as we let many go on too long, sweeping them under the rug until we’re deep in dirt, and then act like we have no idea how we got there. I won’t recommend it to you based on our moderation of thought, as we traffic in extremes rather than common sense at times.

But I can recommend it to you based on the grit of millions who don’t accept that this is the way it must be, who try each and every day to challenge the status quo in the name of progress. That is laudable and should not be overlooked or cast aside.

Hopefully, you won’t give up on us just yet, either. Hopefully, we can move forward enough to age out of our teens and find more direction in our 20s, rather than to become a story of ancient history, a name on a list of empires that collapsed by destruction at their own hands.



Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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