The Greatest Country in the World

 David Hession,  Head of Impact Measurement & Research at LIFT Ireland 

I’m glued to the Olympics these days, even if the time difference makes watching it live somewhat harder than I’d like. Every day, the TV highlights package finishes with a short piece looking at the medals table. This shows us which countries are at the top in terms of gold, silver and bronze medals. As I write this, the leading countries in the World are the US and China, if it is based on overall numbers of medals won.

When I was on YouTube recently, I was given a video recommendation. It was a short 3-minute piece that asked what is the greatest country in the World? I’m not going to go into any detail on what the list looked like, because this was YouTube! – who knows who creates these videos and what their agenda might be? But having said that, the video and the current Olympics did make me think – what is it that makes a country great?

There is no shortage of people who proclaim themselves as living in the greatest country in the World. Of course, frequently the people shouting the loudest have little experience of anything outside their own borders but they are still happy to tell everyone else how they are the best.

While certain countries may seem to shout loudest on this, there’s no monopoly on this – it comes from every direction. I’ve heard the We are the greatest proclamation coming from the most financially successful of countries. Some of these are societies that live in thrall to money, power and success but seem to discard those on the margins of society. These are places where rules often seem to operate so that those who have get more and those who have not are left to sink or swim. In other instances, I hear it from people who come from countries where all that matters is the system; where the individual and individual rights and dignities are unimportant and the maintenance of society/ the monarchy/ the party/ religion (tick as appropriate) is paramount – those who rock the boat, speak out against injustice or simply cause a fuss are marginalised and silenced for causing difficulties for the status quo.

I think it is an interesting and important question – what is that that you think are the values needed for a country to have a right to call itself great?

This is only my view, but for what it’s worth, here is what I believe makes a country great.

  1. Your country allows you to express yourself, whoever you are and whatever you believe – This includes most particularly allowing people to swim against the tide. Progress and improvement only happen where people are allowed to think differently. So long as they are not harming others (and that is a particularly important caveat!), let people be themselves.
  2. Your country allows and enables individuals to grow but also values communities and society. When people have space to grow, they grow. When they are restricted or held back, their growth is stunted. But equally, when the focus is too heavily on individual freedom, then community and societies fracture. While there is a delicate balance between individual growth and ensuring that communities and society thrives, too often it seems that countries have chosen the extremes of one side over the other.
  3. Your country is compassionate – no country has a right to call itself great if it doesn’t look after the people who need it the most. It’s easy to say I‘ve worked for everything I have; I’ve paid my taxes; I never got anything from the State. If that’s you, then count yourself lucky. Success is a combination of many things. Our success is rarely all down to us. Some of us are born into situations where success comes easily; some of us find ourselves in the right place at the right time; some of us are lucky, others less so. Nobody chooses to be on the margins. Nobody chooses to have little hope and little opportunity. Treat people with dignity, respect and compassion – whoever they are. If that means that we need to give up a little of what we have, then so be it.
  4. Your country has a responsibility to allow every citizen to flourish – not only a few. We are all born equal and we all have a right to be treated that way.

I’m happy to admit that I could be wrong with my criteria. But for me, anyone who lives in a country that meets the above criteria more than it doesn’t, should be grateful. Even if that country is languishing near the bottom of the Olympics medal table, real greatness is measured in other ways.

Open for discussion! What do you think?

Join us strengthening our leadership muscles on an online LIFT leadership session. These 45 minute sessions are open to everyone in Ireland.

Join an online LIFT leadership session here