Around the world it seems that those who observe the way America works don’t understand what makes Americans so committed to the causes they support. Whether it is in America’s own internal matters or in how we approach the world, there is no question that the way we deploy our vast resources is often confusing and perplexing to people who don’t understand the American mind.
But what is at the heart of what makes Americans great is something that is seldom spoken of because it isn’t “cool” or “in”. It is that sense of duty to family, to nation and to others that is really at the heart of so much of what we do. That sense of duty is deeply ingrained in the American conscience so much so that even in the youth of this country, there is an instinct that dictates that we as a nation will behave in a moral and ethical fashion.
The call to duty is reflected in what is called the “spirit of volunteerism” that is evident in every sector of this society. The way Americans respond to the needs of others reflects that they feel a sense of duty to others. And Americans in trouble know they can look over their shoulders when disaster strikes and their fellow countrymen will be there to help out.
This was never so evident than after the horrible storm that hit New Orleans called Hurricane Katrina. While some stood around and complained that the government didn’t respond fast enough, most of America knew instinctively that it was the job of each of us as neighbors and fellow citizens of this great land to lend a hand to help the people of New Orleans.
Some responded with money because that is all they could do. One of the most amazing things to witness especially in the week just after the storm was how all across the nation, people opened their homes to take in refugees from Katrina and give them a warm bed, some good food and some comfort when disaster took all they had. This wasn’t done out a sense of guilt or for profit. In fact, usually when complete strangers opened their home to help those affected by the storm, those families gave up a little of their own money, comfort and food so those in need could have something.
To be sure, the American religious community showed their characteristic love, sharing, compassion and duty when they reached out to Katrina victims. But it didn’t stop with the religious community. All across this great nation, Americans of every faith and from every walk of life and economic station stepped up to help when help was needed. The media didn’t notice it but this was one of the most phenomenal outpourings of caring, compassion in history and it demonstrated that sense of duty that said, “I have to take care of my fellow Americans because it is my duty.”
That sense of duty that underlies so much of what Americans do for others doesn’t just surface when disaster strikes here at home. It comes out when we reach out to any country around the world when trouble comes their way. We lay aside whether that country is an ally or foe of America and we help out. This was dramatically illustrated recently when Iran had a terrible earthquake that caused massive devastation and suffering in their small country. Even though we are currently in a struggle with Iran as part of our war on terror, Americans did not see a country who wants to kill us. Americans saw people in need and their sense of duty said, we have to help. And help we did.
That sense of duty is a basic component of the American sense of right and wrong. You can see it reflected in how we behave as individuals, helping each other in times of trouble and as our government behaves when a larger effort is needed. It is basic to our family lives, our religious beliefs and our values as a people. But it is so often misunderstood or overlooked that it is good to step back like this and notice that one of the reasons America is a great country is because of the sense of duty in her citizens.