“It’s about time to help others…” by Flickr user Leticia Bertin. CC-BY-2.0″

“Observe how far the United States has fallen behind others in endeavors at which others excel…Ride a train in Switzerland after riding one in the United States and the point becomes clear.”

—Paul Pillar

It’s difficult for me to think of political instability in terms of the United States. After all, I grew up indoctrinated with the belief that America excelled at everything. American exceptionalism was learned from a very young age. It wasn’t until I left the country in 2008 for the Peace Corps that I really started to question what American exceptionalism was and how far the reality fell short of the ideal. Throughout my lifetime, America has ignored its issues: crumbling infrastructure, gender and racial inequality, income disparity. These problems have always existed, to be sure, but what’s changed is our awareness of them. When riots happen, we learn about them, often within minutes. Injustices are recorded and broadcast over the internet. Friend networks communicate about discrimination and hate.

“America! F*ck yeah!””

—Trey Parker

The tongue-in-cheek parody of Team America: World Police seems less and less like parody these days. For the past 100 years, America has seen itself as the world’s protector. Defender of democracy. So we believed during the Cold War. Yet, with its limitless commitment to unending wars, America is now the world’s bull, running amok through the metaphorical china shop. As we relinquish the title of greatest nation on Earth to those nations who practice compassion better than we ever will, America remains steadfastly committed to bootstrapping, and ignorant of how callous that mindset is. Then again, relinquishing the title implies that the title was ours to give up. Perhaps it never was. Perhaps America simply did one good thing one time and coasted on that reputation for the next fifty years.

When I think about the adjectives I would use to describe America, compassion is not one of them. If anything, the opposite is true. America is a hard nation. Social programs that have been in place for decades are slowly being chipped away. College tuition has risen to the point where students graduate with a degree and a monkey on their back. Health-care costs are so routinely exorbitant that people crowdfund their hospital bills. Where is the compassion of this nation? Did it ever exist? At what point does society see the thousands and millions who have fallen behind and decide to give them a helping hand?

If artists hope to effect any sort of change during these times, it must start with compassion. A willingness to help. This can take on many forms, such as giving a voice to the voiceless, supporting fellow artists, or demanding more from our elected officials. Through compassion, artists and creators can work together for positive change. We can make America a little less hard…if we try.