My Country is Greater than Your Country

When I wrote a Musing about comfort reading, I received a number of gifts from readers in the form of book suggestions. One of these was from my friend, Judy (who happens to be the author of the highly recommended book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi). She suggested the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. While I haven’t started that series yet, her suggestion prodded me to read the first book in the writer’s  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. 

I am hooked. Along with enjoying these charmingly written, evocative and delightful books—I am currently reading the eleventh in the series—I am intrigued by something I have noticed. The protagonist of the books is Mma Precious Ramotswe, founder and owner of the only detective agency in Botswana. I admit to knowing little of Botswana before starting these books, but Mr. McCall Smith is clearly in love with the country in which he lived for many years.

Mma Ramotswe is warm and wise. She is also highly patriotic and convinced of the superiority of her country as well as proud that she is a Motswana (member of the Tswana tribe). On occasion, she compares her country to others on the continent of Africa and her tribe to other tribes. There is no cultural equivalency here; her heritage is clearly superior. At the same time, she is a loving foster mother to two children of Bushman background and helps people from all countries and tribes, often at no charge.

I began to wonder what the response might be if a similar series was written extolling, shall we say, the United States among other North American countries. Or perhaps, claiming that Oklahoma was more praiseworthy than New York? Is it all right to compare one’s ethnic heritage with someone else’s to the detriment of the second? Mma Ramotswe’s pride is endearing. Why don’t I find it xenophobic and racist?

My answer is that her delight in her country and tribe are a part of her coming across as a real character. They help make her the gracious, loving woman that she is. How she feels about her country is an extension of the gratitude and love with which she remembers her father, Obed Ramotswe. Despite losing her mother at a young age, she had a secure and protected childhood that allowed her to grow into a confident and giving woman who can overcome challenges and rejoice in her life. 

I think that one of the failings of our modern culture is the suggestion that somehow ‘belonging’ is a negative thing. The impression given is that we must act as if everyone and everything is equal. Yet, human beings have a very natural need to belong whether to a family, a neighborhood, a city, state, country, religion, ethnicity or any other sort of group. It is through that opening that we can expand and relate to others.

In the sandlots of previous generations, young boys taunted one another saying, “My dad can beat up your dad.” While they, usually, outgrew that level of childishness, there is a feeling of safety in thinking of your family as powerful. Only when we are safe can we emotionally make room for caring about others. Loving, and being loved by, the close and the particular leads to our loving the broad and general.

To our detriment, much of our educational and cultural system has reversed this idea. We are encouraged to focus on our family’s dysfunctionality, our nation’s sins and our group’s victimization. There is a place for recognizing failures and disappointments and sad historical truths. However, that should not come prior to or in place of learning anything about greatness.

Starting from a place of gratitude for the circumstances of our birth, no matter what they objectively are, establishes a launching pad for a healthy life. Even, or perhaps especially,  for those few who are truly born into  personal and communal terrible circumstances, it is vital to find some source of specialness. This is, perhaps, one of the evils of the theory of unaided materialistic evolution forced on our schoolchildren. How much greater to be created as a child of God rather than to be descended from an ape.

16 thoughts on “My Country is Greater than Your Country”

  1. Hi Susan

    You mentioned: “Only when we are safe can we emotionally make room for caring about others”. Do you a reference for research on this statement?

    Thanks, Rich

    1. When I write, Rich, I write from an accumulation of my understanding, both Biblical and other learning as well as experience and accumulated knowledge. My Musings are not footnoted research papers. However, I think you can find research on this idea in Erik Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development and in other studies. Biblically, I think it is rooted in the very emphasis of family, extended family, tribe, nation, world in that order. We start with obligations to those closest to us and move on from there.

  2. I thought that Mma Precious Ramotswe was the founder and owner of the only FEMALE detective agency in Botswana. 🙂

    1. In one of the books a rival opens up, but he doesn’t last. I think she is the only game in town.

  3. Beautifully said, thank you. Unfortunately, much of our society encourages ingratitude for our own families and applauds the forming of groups under the flag of protestation. When dissatisfaction, bitterness and rebellion are the only thing that unites a group it will also be the undoing of the group for the formation of a new group. Ultimately the individual continues to lose and thus society loses too and becomes lesser than it could have been. Nice to hear of a worthy author to check out too!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      That’s exactly right, Michele,
      He’s a lovely author; I think you and your girls will definitely enjoy his books. Maybe even your men. Your family’s praises get sung at our daughter Rena’s home. You’ll really have to visit some time. Meanwhile I look forward to visiting with you soon and introducing our son to your family.

  4. Brian F. Tucker

    I love your thoughts. I agree that taking pride in our heritage can be uplifting. My one concern is that too much pride can and has led to prejudice against those we deem to be inferior. It unfortunately plagued our country since it’s foundation. I pray to God that we might someday overcome it.

    With all respect and love, Brian

    1. I agree that there is a good median point, Brian, and excess in either direction is dangerous. I think right now we are increasing prejudice by moving too far in the direction away from people feeling that they belong to something worthwhile.

    2. Brian, you speak as though Americans have more prejudice than most other cultures. I have been to a lot of countries on a few continents. If that is what you think, you are very mistaken.

      My thinking is that not everyone is special, because by the very definition of special, how can everyone be special? However, everyone has worth. By virtue of being children of G-d, everyone has great worth. When I was a small child, I remember my father teaching me that. We were watching a WWII movie where one character crashed his plane in order for him to save someone else. I remember thinking that was very strange. My father told me that the human life that was saved is worth much more than that plane. I didn’t really understand at the time, but I came to understand.

    1. Ideas have consequences, Scott. There is absolutely no scientific way to prove that evolution, if you want to presume that, was unaided. The insistence on that is a religious principle of secularism.

    2. Exactly, Scott! In fact, I’m going to have a bumper sticker made up saying:

      “I’m a CHILD of GOD
      Not a descendant of an APE”

      Thank you, Susan!

        1. I’m sure I will, too, Susan.

          I had considered ordering the magnetic style, but changed my mind and have gone with a traditional stick-on bumper sticker. A magnetic one would be way too easy for someone to pull off (and either trash, or put it on their own vehicle. But I’m thinking it would more likely be the former scenario, because some people just cannot tolerate a view/opinion/belief that’s different than theirs.).

          I’m hoping that God will use it to open peoples’ hearts and minds. 🙂

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