Born on the 4th of July: How Old is America in Developmental Terms?

three kids jump for joy

D.W. Winnicott coined the phrase “good enough mother,” to connote the adequate mom (or dad, I hope) who does his or her best to attend to their child, and whose inevitable short-comings result in what Winnicott called “optimal frustrations,” which in turn help a child grow toward being able to soothe themselves, and in time, develop the capacity for independence.  It is through secure dependency that we develop independence and, ultimately, (if all goes well), inter-dependence.

But Winnicott was a Brit, and today is America’s “Independence Day” for the 233rd time.  So, at two-hundred-and-thirty-three, how old are we in developmental terms? 

Our birth was born of revolution but our founding fathers (and mothers) were “good enough” to leave us with our constitution—a roadmap for a true democratic society where all are free and equal—a great vision.

In terms of national identity-development, like all kids, we were at our most authentic and real right at birth, “Trailing Clouds of Glory,” to quote Wordsworth.

As we developed, we worked to delineate our boundaries (our borders) and we generally held a strong ethic of industry and honesty; but of course we always had our hucksters and our Tricksters, from the snake-oil salesman through P.T. Barnum and on down to the Bernies (Ebbers and Madoff).

We went through an identity crisis in the War Between the States, engaging in what Melanie Klein would call “splitting.”  This is suggestive of a developmental level, at that time, of a very young child, who must evolve to integrate good and bad and see that it exists simultaneously in those we love (be it Mother or Country). 

Lincoln held us to the standards of equality already set forth in the constitution, but the split in the psyche of America continued to plague us and lead into a long age of narcissism.  Think of the four-year-old who dresses up as a super-hero and imagines that they are in charge of the world.  America, being brilliant, grew truly powerful, but that didn’t heal our narcissism.  And, true to narcissism, we were not very good at laughing at ourselves.  We had a way of provoking the envy of others, and didn’t understand it when others didn’t like us very much (perhaps due to being still at a “pre-empathy” level of development).  It was never that we didn’t care for others, in our country or out, just that in our narcissism we didn’t truly understand others—and that is the key ingredient to good relationships, with our children as well as with other nations.

The constitution gave us “good bones,” but it took Martin and Malcolm to inspire, and empower, us to walk our talk.  And only with Barack, have we arrived at the threshold of very early, but genuine, maturity as a nation:  a nice young man in charge of a nice young country.

On this Independence Day, if we care to honor our founding mothers and fathers, perhaps we should consider how we parent, not just our own kids, but also each other’s kids.  Are we grown-ups acting with courage, moderation and integrity?  Are we truly leaving no children behind?  Are we truly attending to the health and nutritional needs of all our children?  Do we really care about other people’s kids—and if not, are we suffering because our babies that we do not see, yet do feel somewhere in our restless hearts, are not okay?

This is not meant as a moral stance, but as pure enlightened self-interest.  We’ve had 233 years to pursue our happiness and, as a culture, we have yet to find it.  Perhaps the key reason is that we cannot be happy until all the kids are happy.  Ask not if America is a good enough mother; ask if we are good enough mothers (and fathers) to America.  If America, the beautiful, is not happy, then nobody’s happy.  Let’s cheer her up by taking better care of her children.

Namaste, Bruce

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2 Responses to “Born on the 4th of July: How Old is America in Developmental Terms?”

  1. Donna Bird Says:

    Dear Mr. Namaste,

    Wow. You’ve made more excellent points than I can count with your very well-written message.

    I’m certain your final three paragraphs will stick with me, as your message is most profound.

    Thank you for caring, possibly more than most Americans.

    Most sincerely,

    Donna

  2. Michael Says:

    Very well said, Bruce.

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