I beg the indulgence of our international audience for this article. It’s July 4th, Independence Day in the United States of America. A day set aside to celebrate the signing of a document by a congress of the original thirteen colonies declaring separation from British rule. Striking the match that began the experiment of liberty which became the USA.
It was a declaration of unity. Benjamin Franklin quipped in a letter before the document’s completion, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” And in case the point is missed, he meant by the later to hang by the neck as traitors and rebels.
But there were fractures in the fledgling country even on July 4th 1776. Many did not want to leave British rule. There were religious divisions, cultural divisions. Even political divisions within the signers of the declaration which became evident later.
There were also other issues of the time. Slavery would exist for another 90 years even though some of the signers wanted it to be abolished. Women were not allowed to vote or hold office. Most viewed the native peoples of the land as heathen and savages.
Even in the face of those problems the document declares a grander founding principal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is on its face a statement of unity, all are equal, all are endowed with God-given rights. But it is a principle that wasn’t fully realized then or now.
In fact, listening to the loud voices of our times it is easy to conclude that we’re more divided, more fractured, more divorced from each other than ever before. (Except for the years of Civil War.) There is also a growing and more troubling division which declares if you’re not for our side then the truths and rights of the Declaration are withheld from you. Some today are even predicting a second civil war is around the corner.
Here’s the thing, we aren’t that different from each other. Yes, there are differences of politics, solutions, pains, experiences, religions, expectations, and opportunities. But at our very core, we are mostly alike. Take this video for instance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnL7sJYblGY&t The video reveals a basic honesty that cuts across all spectrums of people. We are more alike than different.
If we are divided from each other it is only because we want to be. Underline the “we.” So often we blame the other person or group for dividing without looking within to see our own fault. We blame our incivility on the incivility of the other side without realizing that is a downward spiral which is only stopped when someone becomes the better person. This is true in our country, our city, our neighborhood, our church, even our own home.
Those self-evident truths of the Declaration we celebrate on July 4th remain. It’s up to each person to decide whether to heed the angry voices from the mob, in the media, and from the cause or the voices from history reminding us to “hang together.” But beyond ending the vitriolic rhetoric that extinguishes truth and dehumanizes those on the other side we have a greater challenge.
The self-evident and unalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence have not yet been experienced by all. Life is devalued and life ending violence is elevated. Liberty is withheld based on what someone thinks, believes, or feels. In too many neighborhoods the pursuit of survival supplants the pursuit of happiness. Our greater challenge is to realize that some are being left behind or denied the Declaration’s foundational truth. That realization requires bold action, but not mob action. As someone once said, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. There are many diverse ways of addressing these issues. My way may not be your way, but that’s the beauty of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.