Being ‘obsessed with the best’ loses sight of what’s good

Published 5:05 pm Friday, July 1, 2022

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Two years ago, around Independence Day, I wrote a column that was weighing on my mind at the time. We were in the midst of a life-changing pandemic and throughout the country people were protesting for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

As Independence Day arrives again this year, I was thinking about that column again, and I still stand by my words. So here it is once more, but updated and revised a bit for our current circumstances:

I think it’s fair to say that, as a society, we’re obsessed with being “the best.”

The idea is ingrained in our brains from every point imaginable. Every professional (and amateur) sporting league ranks its participants each season, and whoever grabs the number one spot is consider “the best.” Sports commentators devote hours of programming to arguing over those rankings. In high school, I remember voting for “senior superlatives” to decide which of my classmates was “the best” in different categories, even if the results were pretty arbitrary. And people around my age (or maybe parents of those people) might even remember the iconic theme to the Pokemon TV series which first line opens as “I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was.”

The concept is inescapable.

Placing so much importance on this label, however, sometimes leads to the idea of “if you’re not first, you’re last” and “if you’re not the best, you’re the worst.” Have you ever heard someone say “second place is just the first loser”? I have, and I still think that’s silly.

This emphasis on being the best is a bit ridiculous. There are plenty of athletes, for example, who are amazingly talented and skilled in their chosen sport, but they don’t always make the top of the rankings. Does that tarnish the accomplishments they do make? Are they “lesser” if they never win a championship? I certainly don’t think so.

It’s the same for any hobby or job we do. You can be plenty successful without being considered the MOST successful. In my opinion, it’s much more satisfying to be competent enough to do something well than to fail over and over again while striving to reach a label that is often unattainable for almost everybody.

Every July 4, we pause for a day to celebrate the birthday of our United States of America. We shoot off spectacular fireworks and clad ourselves in red, white, and blue as a show of patriotism. And plenty of people will say something like, isn’t it great that we live in “the best” country in the world.

But do we really need to even be considered “the best” country? Does that label even matter? No one can say exactly what the founding fathers were thinking when they fought for independence from England more than two centuries ago, but if I had been in their shoes, I don’t think my goal would have been to make the best country. I just would have wanted a good country. Something better than what we had before.

America doesn’t have to be number one on the country ranking charts; it just has to be a decent and wonderful place to live. And I mean for everyone here, not just the ones who hold the wealth and the power.

Check out any national news coverage lately and you’ll see a lot of things happening that affect a wide range of people all around our country. There’s inflation that makes it more difficult for people, especially those with low incomes, to purchase what they need every day. There’s healthcare, which is still a financial strain on many people even if they do have health insurance. There’s the occurrence of mass shootings and other acts of gun violence that cut lives short too soon. There’s discrimination against transgender people, essentially just for existing. There’s the recently overturned Roe vs. Wade decision which makes all the ways women’s reproductive healthcare will be handled going forward uncertain and unclear. And, of course, there’s still problems with systemic racism that people were protesting against two years ago.

These are only a handful of examples, but many of them have an impact in some way on thousands or millions of people all over the United States. Even locally, there are problems that need to be addressed. Some parts of our rural area, for example, are considered “food deserts” because of the lack of easy access to affordable, healthy foods.

How can we be “the best” country with issues like that within our own communities?

The United States, like every other country in the world, isn’t perfect. There are problems we need to address and work towards fixing. We can’t keep brushing things under the rug to deal with another day.

The conversations must continue and we must start making real, impactful changes in the world around us. We need solutions that help everyone, not just a handful of people.

So for this Independence Day, while you’re celebrating, please also take some time to think about our country and the people who live here, whether you love or hate them. Have a bit of compassion.

Perhaps we’ve been too caught up in claiming to be “the best” that we’ve lost sight of what we need to do to be good.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.