Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Acting as an American

In the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson mentions five key elements that the then British Colonies wanted in establishing a new nation: Justice, Domestic Tranquility, a Common Defense, the General Welfare, and Liberty.

As we get ready to celebrate the founding or our great nation, I wonder about how well, in my own life, I am pursuing and promoting these ideals. I'm not thinking about this in national terms. That's a whole issue unto itself. What I'm wondering is how am I doing in my personal life, on a day to day basis. Would Thomas Jefferson approve of my day-to-day actions as an American?

Justice, taken from the perspective of the victim is easy to understand. It's a revenge mentality, pure and simple. When taken from the inner perspective of judging my own behavior, it's an entirely different matter. Am I dealing justly with my neighbors? Do I take actions based on unjust assumptions of a situation, curing and ranting all the while, or do I seek to understand what may lie behind a given event?

What about domestic tranquility? Am I providing that for my wife and children? Does my behavior in the household foster a sense of peace, or do I just get mad and start yelling when things don't go the way I expect? Doesn't that destroy the tranquility of the home? In many ways, that kind of thing also ties into the question of whether or not I deal justly with my family.

What about a common defense? Do I provide enough physical security for my home? Do my children feel safe in it? Do they feel safe around me? What about my friends? Do I strive to defend them when they aren't around? If others speak badly of them, am I loyal? Do I defend them, or join in the gossip in their absence?

What about the general welfare? I'm certainly trying to provide for the physical needs of my family. What about the community at large? I do give regularly to the charities of my church. It there more I can do?

Do I foster liberty? Do I grant my children their liberties, or do I unjustly stop them from exercising their right to makes mistakes because I don't want to be bothered? Do I grant others in my life their liberty? Do I accept that the guy in the lane next to me has just as much of a right to be on the highway as I do, or do I enter into a competition with him, curing him for not “getting off of my road?” What about my wife? Do I help her explore her own freedoms, to grow as a person? Do I honor her right to visit with family and friends and to pursue a life outside of the home, or do I impose too much on her in an effort to skirt my own need to help raise and care for our home and children?

I'd like to think that I'm doing all of these things well but, I also think it's useful to revisit them, and measure just how well I am doing. In some of my measurements I find that I'm doing much better than I ever have before. Other measures come up terribly short, and I know I have a long way to go.

Why all this talk about family and home on Independence Day? I think that being an American is more than just living within its border and obeying its laws. I think it’s participating, voting, and acting on a common ideal - the quest for more justice, more tranquility, more loyalty, more equality, and more liberty.

How are you measuring up?

Happy Independence Day.

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