AmericaAmerica, to the outsider, can be many different things. A Superpower, the Land of Hope and Glory, the most advanced nation on earth, the capital of the world for, among other things, film and entertainment, space exploration, global business and information technology.

The country that through names like Coca Cola, Google, McDonalds, Hollywood and Elvis Presley has left its imprint on every other country in the world, more than any other.

But as America is big, outside evaluations of it also tend to be big to match. Broad descriptions that are often void of the essential human detail. They forget that it takes many inches to make the mile. America would not be America without Americans.

I suffered from this universal branding of America before I first visited in the late eighties. I was under the impression that it was all going to be pretty much the same. Each city would be a similar reflection of the one before. I assumed there would be the same shops on different streets with the only variation being a different profile to the splatter of high-rise buildings. But shortly after I arrived I began to realize the folly of my premature illusion. I had also forgotten the essential ingredient, the people. How foolish to think you could know somewhere before you even get there.

The people I met in Chicago were different from those I met in New York. The lifestyle on the East Coast was quite different the West Coast. Los Angeles and San Francisco are in the same state, but that is where the similarities end. Visually, climatically and socially they are a world apart.

The Midwest is very different to the North and both of them are just barely related to the deep south. Where else in the world would you find two places in the same country as disconnected as Alaska and Hawaii? And Las Vegas is just a planet all of its own! How could I have indoctrinated myself for so long that this was just one big country?

The one thing that I found to be the same no matter where I went in America was the warmth and hospitality of its great patriotic people. It was the star spangled glue that cemented all the diversity together. Across a range of locations, from a diner in New York to a dusty convenience store in Arizona, I found nothing but a consistent, common thread of nice people.

People who naturally like you from the outset, until you give them a reason to dislike you, rather than the other way round. Decent, hard working people who were always friendly and helpful in any way they could. They really are “Bruce Springsteen people”.

Outside impressions of America therefore are often inaccurate if they are only based on being big or brash or powerful. They tend to be influenced by the America beyond America, the huge U.S. global institutions that the rest of the world is so familiar with like Microsoft, or Disney, Wal-Mart, Ford, or Budweiser, rather than the human touch.

But that is not America. America is the loyal factory worker in Detroit, the conscientious horse breeder in Kentucky, the Baptist Minister in Alabama, the friendly cleaning lady in New York. These people are the blood in the veins of this great nation. They are the inches that make the mile. If one inch is missing, it is not a mile. Without the blood, there is no body.

So all of you who live in America, just keep getting up every day and doing what you do. Just about all of you do it very well. For example, the scientist that tirelessly works in her laboratory searching for a cure for cancer. The garbage man who will not see an old lady cross the street unaided. The young soldier who is prepared to fight and die so a country he barely knows can also enjoy the freedom he believes in. The Company Director who knows that people are the greatest investment of all.

You are the people who make America great. Every single one of you. The reputation of a nation may be global, but it can be traced right down through the strands of every individual it contains.

So when God blesses America, it is you he has in mind. He is not concerned with the corporations, or the buildings, or the lunar modules, or the freeways, or the institutions. It’s the people he cares about. For him America is every single individual it contains.

And if you can say in return that each day you set out to do the best you could, as often as you could, then no better service can you have given.

You will have played your part in what has made America great.

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