The Ideals of Independence

How did we celebrate July 4th this year? Did we do anything special? Did we feel patriotic? 
This year brought back memories of our bicentennial: 1976. I was in first grade. At the end of the school year, all the students dressed up and took part in parades, played games and sang songs. I still remember my “Minuteman” costume. My mom helped me make an outfit based upon colonial fashion with a tri-cornered hat. I even brought a fake rifle to school.
The 7-year-old me felt patriotic. I fully embraced our underdog origins and the mythology of the rebellious “good guys” versus the bullying-British “bad guys.” Granted, I was only in first grade.
Throughout high school, I continued to embrace “American exceptionalism.” But then slowly but surely, I started learning about the full history of our nation. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. To this day, I continue to play catch up through regular visits to the Beaverton  Public Library.
I am not afraid of learning our full history, no matter how critical, depressing or shameful. Over and over again, we have failed to live up to the ideals of our founding documents. This partial list includes ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, slavery, racism, unfettered capitalism, sexism, LGBTQ discrimination, continued voting restrictions, political corruption, and wars with hidden agendas.
 I have accepted our history for what it is, regardless of how flawed we have been as a nation, dating back to pre-colonial days.  I have embraced the vision of what we can still become; democracy is an experiment and a process.
Just look to the opening line of our Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The very existence of the United States of America is based on ideals: justice, welfare, liberty, freedom and equality. What an amazing foundation. But if we lose faith in these ideas, the American experiment fails.
Let me not get lost in abstractions. I want to shift to other ideas that I learned from my youth … ideas I have tried to implement my entire life. These are lessons my parents taught me at the dinner table, on car rides, when taking walks, when watching the news. 
These lessons include: keep your word, be accountable for your actions, fulfill your responsibilities, learn to compromise and apologize when you are wrong. I imagine that plenty of parents taught their children similar lessons, if not the exact same lessons. 
Now in 2023, we can take a look at our nation and ask, “What happened to these ideals that parents worked so hard to teach their children?” Based upon what we learn from various media outlets, our country is in the process of disintegrating. Day after day, we learn about our hypocritical political leaders and “gotcha” moments with pop culture figures. We hear of ongoing violence in schools, neighborhoods and even airliners. We read out anti-Pride protests, antisemitic attacks and Proud Boys/Christian Nationalist violence. Then there are survey after survey documenting division and even hatred of one group for another.
But wait a minute. Every day, I witness and interact with a different kind of country. Consistently, I spent time with good people. They are kind, encouraging, supportive, caring and looking out for one another. From that perspective, the ideas I learned from my parents are still strong.
This Independence Day, we can still be proud of our country – what is has been, what it is and what it can be. At the same time, we can recognize our tragic, destructive and shameful flaws; we can honestly critique the flaws of capitalism, how the middle class has been squeezed, how government-sponsored social services have been reduced, how healthcare is too expensive, etc. 
Let’s continue to participate in the American experiment. How are we treating our family, our neighbors and our co-workers? How are we interacting with others when we run errands? What are we giving back to our community? Who are voting for? Are we truly voting in our best interests?
It all comes back to our words and our actions. I return to the lessons my parents taught me when I was a little kid: Let’s keep our word, be accountable for our actions, fulfill our responsibilities, learn to compromise and apologize when we are wrong.


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