I love living in a free country. I love the flag. I loved watching the US soccer team play their hearts out and never give up in the world cup. I love being able to go anywhere I want, when I want . . . And, there’s a “but” coming.
On July 4th I happened to catch the fireworks display on TV — both in New York and Washington. WOW — an extravagant show of celebration to say the least. In part, I suspect, to raise our collective feelings of pride regarding who we are as a country, including our country’s stand for Freedom. But what clearly got my attention was the extravagance. (Nothing wrong with affluence, mind you, but we may be wise to consider moderation as a virtue for achieving quality of life over quantity.)
Yes, quite a nice “birthday celebration” for America, but it struck me that we, the wealthiest country on earth, could and would spend millions of dollars on fireworks displays, while individuals both in our country and throughout the world are going hungry . . . and where 20,000 children die each day due to lack of food and medical attention. I felt somewhat embarrassed, actually, that the ‘collective we’ have become somewhat disinterested (leaning toward being disrespecting) of the world’s poor and starving, although I am often solicited for donations to a number of organizations that address those needs throughout the world. In my view we (the governmental leaders) have failed to take enough responsibility and concern for our earth family, as we really ought to be doing. And which we can do, if we only held dear what it takes to make freedom work, and became dedicated to the principles that will sustain and enrich it.
I was prompted to go back and re-read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to check and maybe see if maybe I was missing something that could have prevented our growing condition of greed and the gap between the wealthy and the middle class. What I discovered in the documents was wonderful language about ‘freedom’ and how best to set up a government to manage our new democracy, but not what was additionally required to ensure that it flourished. That benign omission at the time of writing has set the stage for our current discord and supports an economic system that lets the rich get richer and poor get poorer.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, Ms Danielle Allen, a political philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J, “posits the right of a people to create a government for their safety and happiness rests on the sobering reality that what is required is the unrelenting work that each of must make in taking responsibility for our government to work. ‘It’s quite easy to blame political leaders, in other words, but ultimately, it’s on us.’”
So the key omission in the two most important documents on which our society is based is this: we each have a personal responsibility to make freedom work for the good of the whole society. And, oh by the way, we cannot take it for granted or leave it up to the other guy to see that all is well . . . which I think is what has happened. And that the work of making freedom work just might include some virtues we would be wise to consider, and maybe even a set of principles on which we might focus to guide our efforts to more effectively create a country known for its well being, not its affluence, greed, frenetic focus on achievement, and workers’ stress.
I recently heard a TV reporter remind viewers that we all have the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If people are scrounging around for scraps of food, sleeping on cardboard boxes in the winter, and begging for food money on the streets, I don’t equate that to “life”. Don’t we each, as members of this free nation, have a responsibility in finding a way to assist those in having a life?
One of the virtues I believe we need to collectively adopt is to show deeper respect for one another, including the poor and homeless. We can do this by really caring about each other’s well being, along with listening and understanding each other’s point of view — rather than the current dialog in Congress which seems to be based on “I’m right, you’re wrong, why listen, end of story”.
Mipham Sakyong, the current leader of Shambhala International, (a Buddhist based movement intended to create a more enlightened society), writes this in his recent book, The Shambhala Principle: “Every human being is worthy of respect. Lack of respect and appreciation creates a feeling of hurt, which eventually leads to anger and revenge. Much [discord in our society, as well as] global discord can be traced to a moment when one person failed to appreciate and respect another.”
So, to conclude, below are five points I think will help make freedom work for us all:
- It’s not about ‘every person for themselves’ that will make our country great. We are all in this together, as “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
- We each have a responsibility to make freedom (along with democracy and our capitalistic economy) work for the good of the whole.
- Freedom flourishes as we show respect and appreciation for each other, not the superficial respect for the amount of money we have in our pockets.
- We would be wise to consider what virtues (such as service and friendliness), values (such as kindness, compassion, and generosity), and guiding principles (“do unto others . . .” is tried and true) that are most important to each of us, and to act in relation to those in a way that will not only benefit ourselves and our families, but our neighbors, and our country as well.
- And finally, to communicate and share those virtues and guiding principles with each other so that we may begin to elevate the conversation and turn things around, along with renewed care, concern, and action that has us each feeling as equals in our freedom. . . and quite proud to be Americans.