Once, when one of my sisters was overseas for work, she was approached by a man who informed her that he knew she was American.
Americans, he explained, have a way of carrying themselves which is different from everyone else.
In other words, even outsiders know there's something special about us.
It's called swagger, meaning that even if you don't like America, you still have to give us credit: There's never been anything like us.
For 244 years, we have been the yardstick, the standard for freedom, self-governance and ethics to which other nations still aspire.
But it's starting to feel as if we're losing our way; like we took a wrong turn down the wrong street on the wrong night.
Just as in a horror movie, just when we think we can exhale a little bit, here comes something else from under the bed.
A new poll taken by the Pew Foundation finds that 71% of Americans say they are "angry" at the state of the nation.
Why? Because they know this is not how we roll.
The poll also found that 66% of us are "fearful" (but not scared enough to stop shooting fireworks), 46% describe themselves as "hopeful" and 17% say they are "proud."
You'll have to excuse those of us born in the American Century. This is not the country in which we grew up.
To borrow from President Kennedy, we did the hard stuff precisely because it was hard.
Though nativists kicked and screamed, we opened our doors wide to immigrants and reaped the bounty of their talents and genius.
Though racists kicked and screamed, we demanded that America walk the talk that all men are created equal.
We didn't scoff at science, we embraced it.
Fast forward, and the same America which gave the world the polio vaccine and the internet has turned practically every crisis and challenge into a blooper reel from the Keystone Kops.
The America which helped to win two world wars now flails with impotence. Our enemies have become so emboldened that they now interfere with our elections and pay bonuses to terrorists to kill American troops. Meanwhile, we flay our friends and woo those who wish to destroy us.
The Shining City on the Hill is in danger of dousing its own light and retreating into the shadows. We have become withdrawn, paranoid, divisive and the worst sin of all - incompetent.
Our constant partisanship and infighting have created a divided house with the kind of deep, structural damage that will fall upon the heads of our children.
The question is: What are we going to do about it?
Our genius has always been that of reinvention, of regrouping and getting up from the mat after a sucker punch.
But we seem to have forgotten who we are.
Swagger is not braying arrogance or cruelty for its own sake. It's purposely using one's power and influence for the greater good, in order to ensure the future.
We are the nation in which power through the vote is our birthright. There are those who understand the power we have, and who hope we feel hopeless enough not to exercise it.
Just remember that choosing not to use it, is a choice, too.
We are a nation that has always valued decency, courage and honor. To surrender any of these qualities is to doom ourselves into becoming a byword and a warning of what happens when swagger turns into stagger.
Charita Goshay is a columnist for the Canton Repository and is syndicated by More Content Now. Columns share an author's personal perspective. Columns share an author's personal perspective.