Blog Two: Branding America: A Pioneering Nation and People
By Carol S. Pearson
Introduction: Many Americans today have lost faith in the United States and in one another. This blog applies Margaret Mark’s and my work on authentic archetypal branding (described in The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes) to the U.S. Organizations and other social systems are more coherent, and cohesive, if their brand identity is articulated in a core archetypal story that dramatizes their values, commitments, and benefits to all involved. So might a country.
The Seeker Promise and the Courage to Face the Unknown
The Seeker archetype is about leaving the known world to journey into the unknown to realize a desire or a dream, as our founders and immigrants did earlier in our history, and those since still do. Even the founding of our country was based on a dream of what could be. The Seeker archetype goes by many names, such as explorer, adventurer, trail blazer, pioneer, scout, and pilgrim, that highlight the journey plotline, and others that emphasize human qualities, like individualism, and values, like freedom. This is how we historically have talked about ourselves.
Traditionally, we were taught how Columbus “discovered” America, the first immigrants heroically faced the unknown to come to this land, scouts explored the west, and pioneers took difficult journeys to settle it. Then came the innovators who invented and built the infrastructure that helped us travel (railroads, roads, and, later, airports), devised the systems that provided paths to learning (universal education), and organized the legal and economic arrangements that supported climbing the ladder of success (the Constitution, capitalism, the courts, etc.) that brought us together. This is the American can-do adventurous spirit.
In my view, the Seeker remains a perfect archetype for a country of self-styled individualists who affirm liberty and take risks to achieve a better life. It also is right for a country that values and measures continual progress while also affirming, in our Pledge of Allegiance, an ongoing commitment to “liberty and justice for all.” Applying this precept, our ancestors founded democratic governance and promoted innovative solutions which have made the U.S. a world leader. That is why people from all over the world strive to become Americans or to replicate what is best about us. And it is a major reason why we lead the free world.
However, throughout our history, many Americans have been devalued and their options limited by traditional and oppressive roles and laws. Nevertheless, our push back against these limitations is informed by a shared belief in the Seeker American promise. This archetype motivated the Civil Rights Movement and all the other liberation movements that often journey in marches and show up for protests to gain equality of opportunity in all its forms. It is no accident that Martin Luther King Jr. declared, in his most famous speech, “I have a dream,” or that Native Americans seek to preserve their right to live according to their own values, practices, and beliefs.
Facing the Unknown of the 21st Century
Life in this turbulent, interdependent, fast-changing world is difficult. It requires the courage to face an unknown future. Some Americans today are so scared of 21st century challenges that they are retreating into denial fantasies, including conspiracy theories, and/or finding meaning through taking up arms. Most of us are frightened today by those on the other side of the “culture war” and easily fall into the trap of demonizing one another. Of course, we need to vote our conscience and work for a better future, country, and world. But we cannot forget that underneath divergent opinions we remain a nation of Seekers who could be the pioneers that find new ways to save our world—our people, our society, and our environment.
How does the Seeker archetype fit our role in the world? America is now a world leader, which can suggest that we might well adopt a Ruler archetype brand, except that Americans fear government and leaders that might reign us in. Archetypal branding naturally moves from identifying one core archetype to greater specificity in the brand image, personality, and language. In branding America, I believe the more specific Seeker term that fits our role in the world is pioneer. The U.S. leads by example and, in the west, as first among equals. We need courage, and many view that as an attribute of the Warrior. But the courage we need is not the ability to fight but, rather, to face a daunting future.
In fact, it often appears that our country has been swallowed up by Warrior archetypal possession. This confusion happened because of our military success in World Wars I and II, of which we are rightfully proud, but also because of a legacy of a smoldering internal conflict that erupted in our Civil War and continues in our present “culture war.” We do not all interpret our Pledge of Allegiance affirmation of “liberty and justice for all” in the same way. For some, it is liberty and justice for them or people like them, or only for those who deserve it. For others, it implies equality of opportunity, so that everyone should already experience liberty and justice, and since that is not the case, we need to solve this problem ASAP. Yet, we could just accept that we differ and then debate, so that our Congress can function and our country move ahead.
Doing More Now and Enjoying It Less? How About A Seeker Cure?
Even after the west was won and the closing of the frontier, Americans have continued to go through the motions of the Seeker journey, though they enjoy it less and less. We are more mobile than the populations of most other countries, moving from place to place, home to home, job to job. Easily bored, many addictively seek out the next new thing or experience the virtual journeys available right there on our phones. In addition, Americans do not just work hard to reach the top in their fields: many of us are driven. Look around. People are competing to become richer, smarter, or more moral than others. And, failing that, some just get high or focus on getting more “likes” than anyone else. Without a compelling purpose, more and more of us just stay busy.
What to do? As citizens, we can be inspired by our ancestors, as well as more recent immigrants, who made the choice to leave everything they had known before to face the unknown in search of a better life. These pioneers were unlike those who stayed behind, choosing what they had—however painful—over taking a risk.
The solution, however may be in progress. The journey for many of us today increasingly is one of personal growth and development that includes a focus on personal mission and purpose, on making a contribution to others, and on becoming our best selves. Many experts are helping people to evolve their thinking in order to meet the challenges of our time. Others work to innovate technology and human systems for the same purpose. Many groups, including religious organizations, are expanding their perspectives to let go of past prejudices and anachronistic doctrines and to reconcile scientific findings with spiritual teachings.
After more and more members of historically undervalued groups have come out or have moved into unconventional (for them) roles, those from traditional American norm groups gain experiences—in everyday life and work or in the media—that expand their views about who can do what. Many people, moreover, have come out of the pandemic having had time to think about what they want and realize that they are seeking something more fulfilling than has been true for them before. You may have experienced this Seeker plotline any time in your life when you took chances in order to be happier, as the burgeoning field of self-help books encourages us to do. Today, more and more of us are searching for self-awareness and wisdom, and are finding our own spiritual paths as antidotes to driven and addictive behaviors, which can be viewed as substitutes for engaging in our authentic journeys.
Yet, right now many Americans remain grumpy, and citizens have turned on one another. To address this, let’s identify the downsides of the Seeker archetype so that we can avoid them.
When the Seeker Gets Stuck, Shadowy, or Deluded
All archetypes have their primitive, shadow sides. The Seeker shadow side is “all about me” and the adolescent “no one can tell me what to do,” which is acted out frequently by some of our citizens and likely at times by most of us. So, let’s look at where Americans are stuck. The Seeker is present in the shared chronic dissatisfaction of Americans today, a misery that unites us, even as we blame one another for why we feel this way. We can take note of how many families, organizations, and politicians are frozen with fear because they are facing something they do not know how to address. They then unconsciously distract themselves by picking fights.
Our American Seeker impulse is active, but stuck. The call to the quest for the Seeker comes with the recognition that discontent, for the Seeker, is an invitation to take a risk and embark on another journey. The courage of the Seeker, then, is what is needed now to face the new frontier of an uncharted and risky future in a global, interdependent world still riven by conflicts and wars. No amount of infighting will rid us of our discontent and driven behaviors, but a call to a quest just might do the trick. We need a vision of what could call us forth on a journey to something better. We then need scouts to map ways forward and for all of us to reclaim the pioneering spirit that could propel us on a healing journey into a better future.
Independence Meets Interdependence
Too much unconscious Seeker living has led Americans to avoid interdependence as a way to preserve independence. Along with other factors, the resulting self-involvement has produced an epidemic of loneliness, reinforced by a pandemic, and behaviors that illustrate the Seeker shadow of flagrant selfishness and unwillingness to care for one another. Many Americans have come to deify rugged individualism, defined as self-sufficiency.
However, the truth is that there has never been a time—certainly not when the first settlers came to this continent—in which people could survive, much less thrive, alone. Our ancestors did not swim across the ocean by themselves to get to our shores. They did not learn to farm and meet their basic needs by themselves or create a nation by themselves. And no one with any sense took off for the territory without being part of a wagon train. Even cowboys in the wild west did not ride alone, and we cannot now. That is why Blog 3 will explore the complementary archetype to the Seeker, an affiliative Lover, showing its potential to balance our society. It is hiding in plain sight, obscured by its own downsides.
What is your brand? And how do you manage that meaning?
September/October 2022 Newsletter
The shadow of a culture is more complicated because it is similarly created by what its country says it is and what it dreams of being.