On a recent visit to the US Embassy, Ambassador to Rwanda, Stuart Symington, challenged us to think differently about the United States and about the future of US influence in the world. No nation remains forever as the global superpower. So if we value what the United States stands for and want the best of those values to outlast its period as a superpower, we need to be taking action toward that end. The Ambassador encouraged us in what Karisimbi Partners is doing, which he called being “pioneers,” and he encouraged us to bring what is good about the US into our relationships with people of other nations.
In the book, Dangerous Nation, author Robert Kagan outlines how up through the late 1800’s, the United States took actions for the purpose of expansion and spreading its values internationally, from the Revolutionary War, Civil War and Spanish American War to a more explicitly ‘capitalist’ expansionism in Latin America. His book only addresses US history up to the late 1800’s, but many have continued the argument with modern day examples.
It seems important that the Ambassador’s admonition does not resemble the US imperialism that people criticize.I think ’imperialism’, in its most negative connotation, comes when either greed or power or at least arrogance are the motivations. And that, given human weakness, unfortunately shows up equally in Generals, CEOs and even Missionaries. I hope, in contrast, that we at Karisimbi Partners are simply living out who we are. Who we are involves being the best we are able to be and at the same time loving our neighbors out of a quite different motivation than greed or power. And our neighbors are Americans, Chinese, Rwandans and anybody else we pass on the road.
We aren’t aiming to spread uniquely American values or hoping that America will somehow live on through our pioneering. In fact, I hope that by our interactions, we are learning more of what are simply human values and that others are learning the same from us. Maybe somebody is learning from me that telling the hard truth, though painful at the time, will help the teller and the hearer. I know I’ve learned that the impact of business on the surrounding community is equally or more important than the profit to shareholders. Maybe someone has learned from me that the proper amount of planning can make for more productive people and organizations. I know I’m still struggling to learn that relationships are as or more important than productivity.
I graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and was trained as an Army Ranger. My Father was a Veteran of the Korean War. I took my six-year-old adopted Chinese daughter to Fort Sumter, Arlington National Cemetery and West Point this summer before we moved to Rwanda. I wanted her to feel the same debt of gratitude that I do to those who have sacrificed to build and defend the United States and continue to die every day in countries around the world for people they don’t even know. I can credibly say that I am a patriot.
But I believe there is a fundamental aspect of American culture that has nothing to do with genetics but is a result of a unique confluence of geographic, religious, social, economic and cultural systems. The United States, as a nation, values the individual, possibly above all else, and this is its greatest asset and greatest liability.I hope my Rwandan friends will soak up some of this deep respect for the individual that we have as Americans. And I hope that we will take on some of our Rwandan friends’ deep respect for family and community above the individual.
– Dano Jukanovich