Professor Joe Goldblatt
During the past 64 days I have had the opportunity to observe, experience, engage with and come to greatly appreciate the similarities and differences of the good ole USA, the land of my birth, and my adopted home country of Scotland. The contrasts are at first glance indeed severe, however, I have found that the closer I inspect these differences the more similarities I recognise that may lead to greater mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration in the future.
For example, it is often said in Scotland that when America sneezes, those of us in Scotland quickly catch a cold. The recent global pandemic has made us all too aware of the close proximity due to international travel of the world’s citizens. This metaphor may also be used in a wider context to characterise our many similarities in terms of the economic, cultural, ecological, and health ambitions for the future.
During my two months in the USA I have observed stark poverty, a growing homeless population, a severe struggle for access to health services, and the widening gap between those at the top of the financial ladder and those struggling to reach the first rung. I have also noted that in Scotland, we have many similar struggles as many of our young adults find it almost impossible to purchase a home and due to the pandemic our waiting lists for elective surgical procedures continues to grow. Perhaps most telling is how in both countries both Americans and Scots appear greatly stressed and burdened by growing mental health challenges.
Throughout the streets of New York city I see on a daily basis dozens of individuals aimlessly walking about while shouting to the wind in angry outbursts. Furthermore, in Scotland I know of many doctors, teachers, police constables and ordinary citizens who are suffering from poor mental health that was greatly exacerbated by the horrors of the recent global pandemic.
Whilst the Scottish government has made a noble attempt to increase mental health support and services and there are many third sector organisations working full out in this area, this is not enough to stem the rising tide of mental dysfunction that will be further harming the USA and Scotland. Scotland has a better opportunity for addressing this tsunami of poor mental health because of our size and our historic values related to caring for one another. However, the stigma of seeking mental health treatment still seems to be an impediment preventing or delaying the treatment options for many of our citizens.
The current strident debate over abortion rights, the ongoing messy investigation of the insurrection at the US Capitol, and the multitude of disagreements over immigration and foreign aid demonstrated all too loudly that America is still an unsettled country that is in search of future opportunities to clarify her way forward both domestically and internationally.
In the USA, the age old individualism that is so lauded has begun to give way to a sense of collectivism through collaboration due to the urgency of both a deeply troubling economic period due to high inflation and the continuing uncertainty caused by new variants of the Covid virus. It will be more difficult for the 50 state legislatures in the USA to rally together, as compared with Scotland, due to the deeply ingrained federal system of government.
When Scotland’s First Minister visits the USA in a few days time, perhaps the American people will recognise, appreciate and even embrace her sense of optimism and hopefulness. She has, afterall, campaigned for the equal value of measuring happiness for our citizens along with economic and other success.
Perhaps as a result of her visit, the USA shall now actually catch something positive from the smaller country of their elder cousins, the Scots. After all, America is the only country in the world where 75 percent of their past presidents are related to Scotland ancestrally. Therefore, I believe that the time has finally arrived where there is much we may learn from one another and through this mutual exchange of knowledge and values both nations may finally grow closer together and from strength to strength. Furthermore, through improved mental health services in both the the land of my birth and the land of my dreams, we may fulfill the promise enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence (that some scholars believe was inspired by Scotland’s Declaration of Arbroath) guaranteeing life, liberty and also very importantly the pursuit of happiness for all of our citizens.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and has just completed two months of service as Visiting Professor at New York University’s Jonathan M Tisch Centre of Hospitality at New York University in New York city.