Belding: Americans need to act on their own to find greatness

Michael Belding

The American people as a whole have always been a resilient, audacious people. Americans should remember that. There is no reason to believe that our best days are behind us. If America as one unit wants glory, greatness, power and credit, it can have them. If Americans as individuals want those same things, they too can have them.

The only problem is that we are all so passive, so recipient-minded, that we have forgotten, in order to have anything, we have to go out and get it. We have to do it ourselves.

That goes for the capitalists who shout at the Occupy protesters to go get a job just as much as it goes for the Occupy protesters asking others to give away what the system has allowed them to gain.

You want peace? Be peaceful. Don’t look for international agreements — pieces of paper — to bring it.

You want freedom? Participate in government and experience the sense of belonging that is freedom. Don’t look to the Bill of Rights or the Spirit of ’76 as the source of limitations on government. You have your freedoms and liberties only when you exercise them.

We don’t need politicians or any other kind of figure to “bring America back to being the top country in the world,” as the Rick Perry speaker at my caucus said. To be the top country in the world, we need to be the top country in the world. We need to participate in it and cooperate with it instead of searching ourselves in an existential crisis trying to find a savior. That kind of attitude, especially among voters my age, gave us President Obama.

Between August and now, I have read two books, Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind.” Both of these novels contain characters who highlight the problem I see.

Tolstoy’s story focuses on the title character, Anna Karenina, as its subject. Over the course of 1,000 pages, he paints the portrait of a woman who, for all her passionate feeling, has no passion for living. She waits for things to happen to her instead of communicating with her husband or her lover, telling them what she feels discontented about. She resigns to what she thinks is her inevitable fate and (spoiler alert) throws herself under a train at the end of a novel.

Mitchell’s story is, as you may well know, the story of Scarlett O’Hara. Her passionate feeling, unlike Karenina’s, however, is matched by an at least equal passion for living. She allowed nothing to get in the way of her efforts to save herself and her family from Yankee armies, carpetbaggers and starvation.

The man she loves, however, is the same kind of passive and resigned character as Karenina. Ashley Wilkes is content to look back at the antebellum days and reminisce about his easy way of life as a plantation owner’s son instead of adjusting to the new, competitive world in which he lives and, like Scarlett, regain his old wealth and ease.

The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is that any experience is what you make of it. Religion consoles you only as much as you take advantage of it; this university educates you only as much as you take advantage of it; your relationships are rewarding only to the extent to which you take advantage of them.

As long as Americans want to live in a world of their own making, they will do so. They will not allow regulations, whether they be socialistic or secularist, to hamper their decisions. Not, that is, as long as they actually want what they say they want.

It’s one thing to want to do business or practice religion or a way of life in a favorable climate, when it is easy. It is another thing to want it when it may be dangerous or difficult, when there are hurdles in the way. If we don’t get what we want, it is our own fault.

We don’t need some “leader” to make us great.

We can do it ourselves.