Thursday, November 03, 2005

America's Capacity For "Greatness"

I read an article in the airline magazine one day last spring on a flight to California that talked about how the British government has approached MIT to form an alliance with Cambridge University in England to show them how to foster the entrepreneurial spirit in the students there, the way MIT has in their students. So far, since 1940, MIT alumni have started many thousands of very successful companies and has indeed become world-famous for it. The Brits want to know how they managed that.

Well, it turns out that it has to do with the American attitude among other things. In their research, they found that Brits tend to be pessimistic. They tend to think a new idea or product or company will fail and so it does, and so they don't try. In the UK, and in Europe in general, they said, people are inherently afraid of making a mistake. They feel that any kind of failure is an indelible black mark on your record that can never be expunged or outlived.

But here in the US, failure is all just part of the process of learning and trying new things. If one thing doesn't work, then don't worry - just go ahead and try something else. This gives budding entrepreneurs the freedom and the courage to try. And the difference in success that flows from that is amazing. And so are the accomplishments of the companies started by these entrepreneurs.

A few years ago, I took my family on one of those road trips that I am fond of taking. At one point we were at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. My wife and parents went off in one direction, and my daughter Megan and I stepped into the museum where they have the now old and worn-looking space suits hanging there. Relics of another time decades before she was born, when men used to actually fly into space, and even to the moon and walk upon it.

Beside each suit was a plaque with the name of the astronaut that wore it and the program he was part of, and the year he flew. We saw the mockup of the Apollo craft and the tiny little Gemini craft. Small pieces, considering the major impact they had on the world at the time. But now looking so old, and forlorn, and unimpressive to the eyes of a child that grew up with Star Trek and Star Wars and impressive science fiction movies that set expectations so much more grand than these modest little bits of hardware.

In the pure innocence of a child, she asked me, "Why did they do it at all, Dad? If it was so expensive and so difficult, why did they even bother, just to collect a few rocks, or whatever they did there...."

And so I answered her.
I said, "Honey, The reason we moved from Canada to the US is because of what you see right here in front of you. These spacesuits. Because of what they represent. You see, this was a very special people in a very special place in a very special time in history.
In the 1960's, no one had EVER gone to the moon before. It was a challenge that over-shadowed any other challenge ever undertaken by any other people since the beginning of civilization. The idea of not only flying, but to leave this world, traveling through space and landing on another world, standing on that distant world in space and experiencing it first-hand, collecting pieces of it for scientific purposes, and then to come back safely again was so far beyond anything that had ever been tried before, that it was staggering.

And the whole world was behind it. Almost everyone on this planet who had access to a TV watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon. Everyone cheered, and had tears in their eyes, and for that moment, they were proud to be part of the noble species of mankind.
Countries didn't matter anymore - it was a HUMAN achievement. Neil Armstrong didn't say, "One giant leap for America", he said "One giant leap for MANKIND".

Yet, at that time, as excited as I was, I was only 12 years old, but I could see the spirit that was behind the American people who did this. There was an indomitable spirit of perseverance against difficulty, a spirit of hope, an expectation of success and a record of spectacular achievement. This was a culture on it's way up, and there were no limits to what they could achieve, no boundaries to what they could imagine and accomplish, and no one could stop them.

These were a people that had greatness written all over them. If there was anyone in the world who could do it, it was the Americans. For all their problems and imperfections, these, I thought, were the best that humankind had to offer.

I even thought that they were the best ones to represent humanity going out into space if they ever met another group of beings. So it was then that I realized I wanted to be an American as well. I wanted to live there and live among people with that clear and positive vision of a successful future.

So I worked in my career to learn the right skills to get a contract in the US, and then a full-time job here. It was a life dream for me to come here and live here among these people and to raise my family here. And so here we are and here you are. And it's all because those people knew how to dream - and how to make those dreams come true.
And these space suits were worn by the people who trusted those dreams with their lives.

This... is important. Never forget this. This is what America was. This was America in it's finest moment. And this is why we are here. Others are here simply because they were born here. But we are here because we wanted to be here. Because we wanted to be part of a people who could accomplish these things."

God bless America and it's dreams.


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