at its best

jasonkt

Member
Chinese
What does "at its best" mean in "America, at its best, is compassionate. "?

America, at its best, is compassionate. In the quiet of American conscience, we know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise.
from President George W. Bush's Inaugural Address

What does "at its best" mean in "America, at its best, is compassionate. "? <-----Question from original thread title added to post by moderator (Florentia52)----->
 
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  • BLUEGLAZE

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    When America acts according to what is considered very, very good then it is compassionate.
    It does not always act this way but at its best it is compassionate.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    When America acts according to what is considered very, very good then it is compassionate.
    It does not always act this way but at its best it is compassionate.
    Thanks, BLUEGLAZE, for teaching.
    Do you mean that, when people are rich, they are willing and capable to help people? But they are unable to do so when they are not rich. Am I right?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Thanks, BLUEGLAZE, for teaching.
    Do you mean that, when people are rich, they are willing and capable to help people? But they are unable to do so when they are not rich. Am I right?
    How did you get from BLUEGLAZE saying "act according to what is good" to "be rich"?
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    No, it has nothing to do with money. It means, when people act their best in an ethical way, they are compassionate. They don't ignore other people and their problems and think only about themselves. There are many different thoughts people in society have, good and bad, but when they are following good thoughts, they have compassion for other people and try to help them. He is saying America is capable of having those good thoughts and acting on them. It's also capable of bad thoughts when it's not at its best.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    No, it has nothing to do with money. It means, when people act their best in an ethical way, they are compassionate. They don't ignore other people and their problems and think only about themselves. There are many different thoughts people in society have, good and bad, but when they are following good thoughts, they have compassion for other people and try to help them. He is saying America is capable of having those good thoughts and acting on them. It's also capable of bad thoughts when it's not at its best.
    I use the word "rich" simply wanting to give an example of "at its best".

    What do you mean by "when people act their best in an ethical way, they are compassionate."?

    Please just give a brief explanation of the meaning of "at its best" used in the quoted sentence if you can. Thanks.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    When America acts in the best possible way that America can act, it is compassionate.

    Here are some other examples:
    When I'm at my best, I can swim half a mile = When I am in excellent physical condition ...
    Even at my best, I could never manage to understand Professor Piggott's lectures on Russian literature. = Even when I was alert, wide-awake and paying attention ...
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    No, those don't mean the same thing. To avoid characterizing America, let's use a neutral, fictional situation:

    1) Roxanne, at her best, is compassionate. This suggests that when she's acting as well as she can toward other people, she's automatically compassionate.

    2) When possible, Roxanne does her best to be compassionate. 'Do one's best' has the connotation of trying as hard as one can, but not necessarily succeeding. This sentence suggests that sometimes (only when it's possible for her to try), she tries as hard as she can to be compassionate, but she doesn't always succeed.

    EDITED:
    (I used to work for someone who would assign me a task and say "Can you get this done by the end of the workday?" He wanted me to say "Yes, I can," but I'd say "I'll do my best." He didn't like that, because to him it sounded as though I might not succeed. I used 'do my best' because I knew there was always a possibility that the task would turn out to be so complicated that it would be impossible for me to finish in the time allotted, or some crisis would arise and I would have to deal with the crisis and stop working on the task he'd assigned.)
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    You've received some excellent guidance already from BLUEGLAZE and kentix, so it's difficult to understand what is still confusing you.

    When you're at your best, you behave or perform or create at your top level. You are your best self. I hope that helps.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    You've received some excellent guidance already from BLUEGLAZE and kentix, so it's difficult to understand what is still confusing you.

    When you're at your best, you behave or perform or create at your top level. You are your best self. I hope that helps.
    So what if when America is not at its best? not compassionate? That is what makes me still confusing.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    That is certainly the implication. It's a bit like saying "He's not bad looking when he cleans up." The implication is that he's rather unattractive when not cleaned up. But in neither case has the speaker actually come out and said so.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    That is certainly the implication. It's a bit like saying "He's not bad looking when he cleans up." The implication is that he's rather unattractive when not cleaned up. But in neither case has the speaker actually come out and said so.
    But I think people (or at least the majority) are compassionate whether they are at their best or not. Such a character is unconditional for all people, I think.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    The next bit of the speech talks about the “deep persistent poverty” in the country. We can see this as a criticism. Why does such a rich country have such poverty?
    America might be compassionate. But not quite compassionate enough to address that problem.
     
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    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    The next bit of the speech talks about the “deep persistent poverty” in the country. We can see this as a criticism. Why does such a rich country havecsuch poverty?
    America might be compassionate. But not quite compassionate enough to address that problem.
    That is because America is compassionate only at its best?
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    But I think people (or at least the majority) are compassionate whether they are at their best or not. Such a character is unconditional for all people, I think.
    We're straying from the point here. This thread is about what is meant by the line in President Bush's speech. You may disagree with him, but that discussion is off-topic in this thread.

    Florentia52, moderator
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    That is because America is compassionate only at its best?

    Not really.
    In this context it is a politician flattering his audience, encouraging them to think they are part of a marvellously compassionate country — before sticking them with the harsh facts which suggests they are not “at their best” on that issue.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    “At their best” is a set phrase. You can not go paraphrasing it with another set phrase (do their best) that means something different.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Everybody in life acts different ways at different times. Sometimes they act their best, sometimes they act their worst and most of the time it's somewhere in-between. He is saying when the country is acting its best it has the capability of being very compassionate. When it is acting it's worst, it might not have that capability.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    Everybody in life acts different ways at different times. Sometimes they act their best, sometimes they act their worst and most of the time it's somewhere in-between. He is saying when the country is acting its best it has the capability of being very compassionate. When it is acting it's worst, it might not have that capability.
    If so, it does not carry the point that the president has for the citizen - to be compassionate.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    There's nothing more for me to say. We have given ten explanations. If your English is not good enough to understand this subtle meaning, please find a Chinese speaker who can explain it to you.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    There's nothing more for me to say. We have given ten explanations. If your English is not good enough to understand this subtle meaning, please find a Chinese speaker who can explain it to you.
    No offense. I just want a reasonable and convincing answer. Thanks a lot for your answers.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    You have been given reasonable and accurate answers. If you can explain why you don’t find them convincing, and what is still confusing you, we can continue to try to help.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    You have been given reasonable and accurate answers. If you can explain why you don’t find them convincing, and what is still confusing you, we can continue to try to help.
    Thanks a lot, Florentia52, for all your help and support.
    What is still confusing me is:
    I think President Bush calls on America to be compassionate all the time, not just at its best. Actually, people (or at least the majority) are compassionate whether they are at their best or not. Such a character is unconditional for all people, I think.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    I think President Bush calls on America to be compassionate all the time, not just at its best.

    Sort of. President Bush is reminding the American people that when we are our best selves, we are compassionate, and that we should apply that compassion to the problem of persistent poverty.

    Actually, people (or at least the majority) are compassionate whether they are at their best or not. Such a character is unconditional for all people, I think.

    Possibly, but that is your own opinion and is not relevant to what Mr. Bush said.
     

    jasonkt

    Member
    Chinese
    I think President Bush calls on America to be compassionate all the time, not just at its best.
    Sort of. President Bush is reminding the American people that when we are our best selves, we are compassionate, and that we should apply that compassion to the problem of persistent poverty.
    Make sense. Actually, your wording is much better than the original one. Thanks a lot. Florentia52.
     
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