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I'm Embarrassed to be an American - The Traveling Alphabet
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I’m Embarrassed to be an American

For the past few days Audrey, the boys and I have been in the remote desert in southern Bolivia. To get there we spent three days traversing the mountains in a four-wheel drive Toyota Landcruiser. We were off the grid.

Now that we are somewhat back on the grid, I am reading the news about what is going on at home. Our president is using Twitter to dis-invite a basketball team to the White House. People are bad-mouthing each other because a few football players are kneeling during our national anthem. And, we are assigning an Ambassador to a country that doesn’t even exist. That is, unless I missed that Zambia and Namibia merged to form one country: Nambia.

While I am an ardent supporter of the United States of America and was excited to see Old Glory flying in our restaurant the other day, I am a bit embarrassed to admit to fellow travelers my nationality. Colin said, “Hey Dad, let’s sit under the American flag.” I hesitated.

Our primary goal for spending one year traveling around the world in places like South America, Africa, and the Middle East is so our boys recognize how good we have it. At home, we have food on our table every night. We have drinkable water from our faucet. We can express our political views without retribution. We can vote.  We can drive — even women. We can believe in Jesus, Buddha, Allah, or Yahweh. Or, not.  We can even access the internet – although it is a bit spotty here in the driest desert in the world.

We have so many freedoms which citizens in other countries lack. I am often reminded when complaining about something “minor” like slow internet, a cold meal, or an uncomfortable mattress that I am dealing with first-world problems. How true.

While on a city tour in La Paz, Bolivia, we were told of the crazy things the current President, Evo Morales, has said. Things such as “If you don’t want to end up bald or gay, don’t eat chicken.‘ Or, how Bolivia should, “raise taxes on ladies who don’t have children” and “ban condoms” in an effort to increase the population. What initially went through my head was, who would vote for this nut? But then, many people are asking the same about America. I know, because other travelers tell me.

Why am I embarrassed? I wish our administration would focus on bigger issues like health care, education, national security, or economic growth in a more dignified manner versus badmouthing so many people, organizations or countries. I expect more from our politicians.

I don’t like when players kneel during the national anthem because it denigrates an institution I so strongly support. However, they are expressing one of the greatest gifts we have as Americans: Free Speech. They are doing it for a greater good because of the inequality they feel certain classes or races experience. Martin Luther King did it. Rosa Parks did it. And now Colin Kaepernick is doing it.

I am a white, straight, middle-aged male who has experienced very little discrimination in my life and cannot fully appreciate what certain races, genders, or classes have gone through. Nevertheless, I can at least empathize and try to understand their plight. So, while I don’t like to see Kaepernick kneeling, I respect his views and the reason for his actions. I also respect all the veterans who have fought so hard to make sure I have this freedom.

Spend time in any country where a dictator controls everything and citizens can’t say anything negative about their leadership and you will appreciate our First Amendment Right even more. I can post this blog without worry about what my government will do to me. This is not the case everywhere.

We need maturity with how we deal with issues and it doesn’t happen through Twitter or constant denigration of others. It happens through meaningful dialogue. When my boys start to date and decide to break up with a girl — assuming the girl doesn’t break up with them first — I want them to know that you don’t do it over Twitter. You look her in the eye and talk to her. Leadership is similar. When difficult times occur, you have a meaningful dialogue to solve the problem and treat the other party respectfully.

I am 6,000 miles from American soil and not seeing us act as the leader we should be. As the most influential country on the world’s stage, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Because of the quotes I hear, the headlines I read, and the comments I see, I am fearful that we will lose our influence on this stage unless our administration starts treating its citizens and allies the way I want our kids to treat people.

If you agree then share this post. If you don’t then constructively provide your comments. Having respectful, open, and honest discourse about our problems is what we need. And when we have this, America will be Great Again.

Bryan Gillette

Bryan Gillette is the founder and principal consultant for Summiting Group focusing on Leadership and Organizational Development. He has traveled extensively for both work and personal reasons visiting almost 60 countries and 40 United States. He is an avid runner and cyclist and ran 200 miles around Lake Tahoe in 76 hours as well as cycled across the United States. He recently spent one year traveling the world with his family.

This Post Has 6 Comments
    1. Thank you Bryan, for stating in perfect language exactly how I (and many of us here at home) feel. Like you, I have been blessed with living in a country where as a woman I am treated near-equal in terms of voting, driving, professional career rights. I do know there are many, many, many Americans who cannot drive down the street without fear for being pulled over and harassed by authorities. Or ridiculed for how they look, what they wear on their heads. I shared your post to Twitter and Facebook. I share your view.

      Sit under the American flag. Be proud, be honest, tell the people you are visiting that there is still humanity and compassion in the U.S.


  1. Well penned Bryan. And it gets worse with the North Korean banter. I would argue that the impact of the #45th is unmatched in world politics. Thanks for sharing and for still caring to write that when you are footloose and fancy free. Glad to have your worldly perspective.

  2. I think a better word to use is “disappointed” not “embarrassed”. I also think politics don’t belong in sports or on the Hollywood stage. All those football players should not only express their opinions in a different setting, they should DO something about their issues rather than just kneel. It just looks like show to me and not very constructive. Kathy Goldstein

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