04 Jul Words are good. Action makes a difference.
Today we celebrate the American Revolution.
The American Revolution was driven by economic, social, and political divisiveness, just as we experience now. We aren’t the first to experience it. It happens every century. Each century, there seems to be one important speech by a leader reminding us of the same thing – everyone is equal, has rights, and it is up to each of us to act like it.
The Declaration of Independence, 1776 . . .
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.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, at the turning point in the Civil War, 1863 . . .
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. . . It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Martin Luther King, 1963 . . .
I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
. . . When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”
Who will make the speech of the 21st Century?
In a Wall Street Journal article, “America doesn’t need a new revolution,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Hoover Institution fellow, says she immigrated to the United States because “America is the best place to be black, female, gay, trans . . . We have our problems and we need to address those.”
Time was, Americans were renowned for their can-do, problem-solving attitude. Europeans, as Alexis de Tocqueville complained, were inclined to leave problems to central authorities in Paris or Berlin. Americans traditionally solved problems locally, sitting together in town halls and voluntary associations. Some of that spirit still exists, even if we now have to meet on Zoom. But the old question—”How can we figure this out?”—is threatened with replacement by “Why can’t the government figure this out for us?”
There are things that individuals can’t do for themselves and we need government to implement – like infrastructure and safety. But the government can not make us be civil to each other.
Civility is thinking about the words above in your every day life and acting upon them with grace and curiosity to discover what you can agree on and to respect why others are reaching out to you – when your children or parents are too demanding, your partner is buried in a device instead of listening, a contractor or supplier makes a mistake, a friend disagrees with your opinions, an employee/boss forgets to do something, or you are confronted by the unfamiliar.
When your actions communicate these principles, you make the difference. Your actions could be the reason a young person today will be inspired to make “the speech” of the 21st century.