Originally published in the Reader Weekly 2004-06-03.
I live in the best house in the world. What? You think your house is better? Your house has a warm basement; your house is bigger; your house is on a lake? Oh well, my house is my house, I like it, and I’ll probably stay in it for many more years.
I live in the best neighborhood in the world. What? You think your neighborhood is better? Your neighborhood has block parties every season; your neighborhood has no thoroughfares running through it; and your neighborhood has a convenience store two blocks from your house? Oh well, my neighborhood is my neighborhood, I like it, and I’ll probably stay in it for many more years.
I live in the best city in the world. What? You think your city is better? Your city has more frequent bus service; your city has fewer potholes; and your city has a warmer climate? John Lescroat, detective fiction writer, thinks that “San Francisco [is] the best city in the world” (The Mercy Rule). Oh well, Duluth is my city, I like it, and I’ll probably stay in it for many more years.
I live in the best state in the world. What? You think your state is better? Your state has mountains or is on the ocean; your state has a lower crime rate and a better education system; and your state has lower taxes? Oh well, Minnesota is my state, I like it, and I’ll probably stay in it for many more years.
I live in the best country in the world. What? You think your country is better? Your country has a better transportation system; your country has free health care for everyone; and your country has less pollution. The Swedish National Anthem exclaims “I will live and die in the North.” Sounds like many Swedes think Sweden is the best country. Or Bedrich Smetana wrote “Ma Vlast (My Country)” about Bohemia, now the core province of the Czech Republic. Oh well, the United States is my country, I like it, and I’ll probably stay in it for many more years.
Why is it that so many people have to have the “best” whether it is a car or a country? The Ford-Chevy divide is one of the most ridiculous of the “best” arguments. Why is it that some Ford owners have to put down Chevy owners or vice versa? Can’t they accept that people make choices for a wide variety of reasons, both logical and illogical? I have owned one Chevy (my first car) and five Fords. I can’t tell you why I never bought another Chevy or another GM car or never even considered them. I have rented GM cars many times and they have performed satisfactorily. But to purchase Ford has been my choice and I shouldn’t feel a need to put down Chevy’s or their owners.
Sports teams are another “best” that so many get caught up in. The emotional involvement that some people have can be destructive, both personally and socially. They feel like the world has come to an end if their team loses, and a few of these feel like they have to go on a rampage. I know, I got all excited when the Twins were in the Series in 1987. But I cheered some of the Cardinal players, and I felt sorry for them when they left the field as “losers”. But hey, they won the National League playoffs and for the most part played quite well. The 1987 World Series did not make Minnesota a better state than Missouri.
Countries are the “worst” of the “best” attachments. Not so much that it is wrong to take pride in one’s country, but that the idea that one’s country is “best” can lead to exclusion of other ideas, bad foreign policy, and even war.
One exclusion of other ideas that I’ve always marveled at was that the “best” medical system in the world did not have many computerized patient records until recently, except financial records. When I worked for Univac in Sweden in the early ‘70s, Univac had a special group that worked with hospitals; this group helped European and South African hospitals implement systems that kept track of patients’ medical records. My colleagues in that group joked that the only thing that American hospitals kept track of on computers was how much the patients owed them.
Many think that the U.S. is the bastion of freedom and therefore knows “best” how to export it to other countries. "We need to restrain what are growing U.S. messianic instincts -- a sort of global social engineering where the United States feels it is both entitled and obligated to promote democracy -- by force if necessary.... Liberty cannot be laid down like so much Astroturf." - Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kans., quoted by George Will, Duluth News Tribune, May 30, 2004.
Let us remember that Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss was wrong, this is not the best of all possible worlds (or countries or cities or neighborhoods or houses). But let us make the best of what we have and work to make it better.