Initiative and Determination – That’s the Culture of America.

“The ability to look at a failure and learn from it, over and over, without becoming dissuaded or demoralized is called determination. Determination is even more rare than hard work, because it is the thing that keeps us going when we even doubt ourselves.”

As part of the series looking at the current racial tensions in America, I believe that we must include a conversation on culture. It is funny how the more things change the more they actually fold back in on themselves, and the culture of change is no different. I normally like to save the poignant quote for the end of the article, but in this case I believe I should start with it. This is a conversation Sergeant Friday and Officer Gannon are having with some idealistic young men on Dragnet:

Friday: Don’t think you have a corner on all the virtue vision in the country or that everyone else is fat and selfish and yours is the first generation to come along that’s felt dissatisfied. They all have, you know, about different things; and most of them didn’t have the opportunity and freedoms that you have. Let’s talk poverty. In most parts of the world, that’s not a problem, it’s a way of life. And rights? They’re liable to give you a blank stare because they may not know what you’re talking about. The fact is, more people are living better right here than anyone else ever before in history. So don’t expect us to roll over and play dead when you say you’re dissatisfied. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great deal better than when we grew up: a hundred men standing in the street hoping for one job, selling apples on the street corner. That’s one of the things we were dissatisfied about, and you don’t see that much anymore.

Gannon: You’re taller, stronger, healthier, and you live longer than the last generation … We’ve done quite a bit of fighting all around the world. Whether you think it was moral or not, a lot of people are free to make their own mistakes today because of it. And that may just include you.

Friday: I don’t know, maybe part of it’s the fact that you’re in a hurry. You’ve grown up on instant orange juice. Flip a dial – instant entertainment. Dial seven digits – instant communication. Turn a key – push a pedal – instant transportation. Flash a card – instant money. Shove in a problem – push a few buttons – instant answers. But some problems you can’t get quick answers for …We took a little boy into Central Receiving Hospital yesterday; he’s four years old. He weighs eight-and-a-half pounds. His parents just hadn’t bothered to feed him. Now give me a fast answer to that one … Show me how to wipe out prejudice. I’ll settle for the prejudices you have inside yourselves. Show me how to get rid of the unlimited capacity for human beings to make themselves believe they’re somehow right – and justified – in stealing from somebody, or hurting somebody, and you’ll just about put this place here out of business!

Gannon: Don’t think we’re telling you to lose your ideals or your sense of outrage. They’re the only way things ever get done … And we hope you’ll tackle it … In the meantime, don’t break things up in the name of progress or crack a placard stick over someone’s head to make him see the light. Be careful of his rights. Because your property and your person and your rights aren’t any better than his. And the next time you may be the one to get it. We remember a man who killed six million people, and called it social improvement.

Sergeant Joe Friday: Don’t try to build a new country. Make this one work. It has for over four hundred years; and by the world’s standards, that’s hardly more than yesterday.

What does this have to do with culture? Just like the youth of today, the youth of 50 years ago only wanted to see America for all of its faults. They did not have the life and world experience to understand exactly how much of a gift this great nation of ours is.

The ability to look at a failure and learn from it, over and over, without becoming dissuaded or demoralized is called determination.

What is it that makes it great? Well, certainly our abundance of natural resources has made a valued impact. But without the ability to leverage those resources we would have long since been conquered and absorbed for those very riches. What has made us so dominant is our cultural belief in the American Dream. This dream is defined by Google dictionary as “the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.”

Within this simple sentence are quite a few important and nested ideas. I am going to break this down by concept. First and foremost is the idea that the American dream applies to all of our citizens. Many today do not like this idea. They want the American dream to apply universally to everyone, everywhere, and essentially open our borders so that everyone can have equal access to it.

The problem with this is that if it were that simple of a concept then they would have that same cultural trend in their own countries. I fault no one for wanting to better their situation, but there is simply no way that we as a country can afford to take in the totality of the world’s refugees.

Determination is even more rare than hard work, because it is the thing that keeps us going when we even doubt ourselves.

The next key point is the words ‘equal opportunity’. This key statement, despite what some may want you to believe, has nothing to do with guaranteeing your treatment at the hands of others. In fact, as Americans, we have the right to be as bigoted, racist, classist, and simply the biggest jerks that we want to be. What equal opportunity means is that you are free to chart your own course.

Many view this as wrong, since those with money have the biggest advantage. This is the socialistic view of society. What they will never understand is that it is this philosophy that keeps people from truly reaching their full potential. When one is able to reap the rewards of their work, they are willing to invest their heart and soul into the endeavor.

Kenny Trout knew this. He started out in life poor, selling insurance to make his way through college. He created a phone company called Excel Communications in 1988 and since then has amassed $1.7 billion is personal wealth.

When we let people pigeonhole us into a classification they not only take away who we truly are, they attempt to steal the American culture from us.

Howard Schultz was raised in a housing project. He was quoted by the British magazine, Mirror, as stating, “Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families. And for some reason, I don’t know why or how, I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible.”

After winning a scholarship for football to help him attend college, and later graduating, he took over a small coffee franchise with 60 shops named Starbucks. After leading this corporation to become the global coffee powerhouse it is he is now worth over $2 billion.

The list continues. The same can even be said for Bill Gates. According to businessinsider.com, Microsoft not only made Gates rich, but through investing in the company three billionaires and approximately 12,000 millionaires were created.

What does it mean to achieve success and prosperity? That is a question that can only be answered by the individual. Money is seldom the answer. If that were not true, then every lottery winner would go on to live a life of happiness. But this is not always the case.

In 2002, Michael Carrol won approximately $14,4 million in the British lottery. Within ten years he had blown it all and was surviving off of unemployment checks. In 1998, Gerald Muswagon won $10 million. He quickly wasted all of his winnings and was forced to take on a minimum wage job to support his six children. Overwhelmed, he took his own life in 2005. You can go to thepennyhoarder.com for more examples.

The reality is managing money, just like proficiency at one’s job, only comes through successively increasing experiences. Money is not the answer, it is the end result of hard work. What success is, is something each and every individual must answer for themselves. Making $50 million a year sounds great, but are you willing to put in the decades of 80 hour weeks to obtain the knowledge and skills needed to become a CEO? There is always a tradeoff.

Finally, we come to end items, which are truly the most important elements of the American Dream: hard work, determination, and initiative. Here is where 95% of people will fail. You must be willing to work hard towards whatever dreams you envision. While this sounds simple, it is not. Hard work means you are motivated enough to force yourself to complete what you start and not get sidetracked. Of course, no matter how much sweat and effort you put into your dreams you will fail, and often.

Dr. Seuss wrote Oh the Places You’ll Go, an amazing and well-known book about success. To take a line:

“And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself, is not easily done.”

The ability to look at a failure and learn from it, over and over, without becoming dissuaded or demoralized is called determination. Determination is even more rare than hard work, because it is the thing that keeps us going when we even doubt ourselves.

Finally, we have initiative. This is the ability to take risks. Hopefully well thought out and smart gambles. This is where one must be willing to risk what they have achieved in order to push even further.

The culture of the American Dream has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with who you are. Not those insignificant items people can use to classify you with – race, religion, nation of origin, etc. When we let people pigeonhole us into a classification they not only take away who we truly are, they attempt to steal the American culture from us.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Matthew Wadler

Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran. Matt served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring. His service includes time as Military Police, Field Artillery, Adjutant General, and Recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. His formal education includes a master’s degree in HR Management. He is a strong supporter of the constitution and advocate for the military and veteran communities. Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewWadler.

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