Here it comes again.
The Fourth of July. The day on which we annually celebrate the birth of our nation. Picnics. Fireworks. Flags unfurled in the breeze. A euphoric sense of liberation.
As Americans, we are darned pleased with ourselves most of the time. We are, after all, the richest nation in the world – unless, of course, per capita income is the measure. Then we fall to the tenth.
Our ranking also drops when generosity is considered. New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and Canada all beat us, according to Gallup’s World Giving Index, which looks at surveys and research on 153 countries.
We are, however, indisputably the most powerful nation in the world – at least to our way of thinking. Some sources put China at the top. Fortunately, for us, those sources are few and far between at present. Most tend to agree that we’re No. 1.
We have a right to feel pleased with ourselves. Right? We’re rich. We’re powerful. We’re a democracy. What more could we possibly want?
Seriously, what more could we possibly want?
The answer depends upon who answers the question. Me? I think we need to recapture a spirit that was lost in recent decades – a commitment to the common good.
History shows us that folks have always bickered amongst themselves. I read somewhere that Thomas Jefferson was chosen to pen the Declaration of Independence because his views were moderate. John Adams was an outspoken supporter of independence. It was feared, I recall, that any document Adams penned would be considered biased.
However, Jefferson did not work alone. Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston, in addition to Jefferson and Adams, were on the committee responsible for drafting the Declaration. Then, the Continental Congress debated it for four days, making revisions.
Still, Jefferson is considered the author, and most Americans know at least one glorious line from it: “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.”
Apparently, Adams resented Jefferson for years – if not the rest of his life – because of the fame he gained for his work on the Declaration. So, if President No. 2 doesn’t like President No. 3, right there in the early years of our nation, is it surprising that we have the same kind of bickering going on today? It’s in the blood, so to speak.
But, despite the bickering, we didn’t flounder as a nation. We prospered.
Some of our greatest moments, though, came out of a commitment to the common good. Tom Brokaw reminded us of this when he wrote about the generation who grew up during the privations of the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. Those folks didn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” They sacrificed for the common good.
They were not the first. As our nation expanded from 13 colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, our schools, churches and communities grew because people worked for the common good. Our infrastructure was put in place by those working for the common good.
Somewhere, we’ve lost a sense of that. Now, we want and want and want, and whenever possible, we want something for nothing. We want good schools and good roads and services for all kinds of folks (though some balk at helping the poor), but we don’t want to pay for them.
We don’t want to invest in our communities, in our state or in our nation. It makes me wonder how free we actually are, how patriotic, and what it really means today to honor the flag.
About the only ones I see who reflect the values that built our nation are those who serve in our military. What about the rest of us?