The Fourth of July is an ideal time to reflect on our freedom – past, present and future. Not freedom in the flag-waving sense; more of the kind associated with your original thoughts and beliefs. Most of us recognize the importance of thinking about our history, where we come from and where we are today. Reflecting in this way can offer focused perspective as we consider how we might want to shape ourselves moving forward. With that said, are you thinking and acting in ways that exercise your personal independence?
As Americans, we enjoy freedoms that others only dream about. Some of these are spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776 (and signed on July 4). The document is considered by many to be our nation's most cherished symbol of liberty. About a decade later, the United States Constitution followed and was signed September 17, 1787. A few years later, on December 15, 1791, three-fourths of the states in the union ratified the 10 amendments we popularly refer to as the "Bill of Rights."
The thoughts within these historic documents helped frame, support and protect the fabric of our emerging American culture. They addressed extremely important issues that continue to allow us to express such things as religious choice, free speech, the right to assemble, and unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And yet there is freedom and then there’s freedom.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights address and preserve our freedom from an outward point of view – stuff happening around us. The kind of freedom to which I’m referring can only be obtained through inward pursuits; it comes from within. I can’t count the number of times I have found myself in situations in which I believed I had no choice but to follow a course of thought or action bound by what others thought or said I should be doing.
For instance, one day at the gym a few guys were discussing the merits of a particular professional athlete who had just been traded to a new team. Although I disagreed with what was being said, I remained silent because I was amazed at the level of certainty they had on the matter and the opinions they expressed. Later at home when I was watching the news program SportsCenter I realized the guys at the gym were merely parroting what they’d heard commentators saying.
A similar dynamic plays out frequently during conversations about politics in which people recite, often verbatim, what was spouted by political pundits. People take sound bites from radio, TV, words they’ve read in the paper or on the web, and promote them as their own ideas.
Such lazy approaches to expressing opinions has grown exponentially it seems, thanks to the ease of access to so-called experts. In some ways, this has elevated awareness about certain issues. However, it has not advanced many conversations, nor deepened our knowledge. It also has dampened independent thinking that in turn dims the democratic spirit.
What is it that enables people like Thomas Jefferson to exercise critical, independent thinking, as opposed to conforming to ‘experts’ or what’s popular? I believe it’s the same thing that would have enabled me to voice my different but original thoughts that day at the gym. Courage. Courage to believe in myself, and the will to see it through. Both are at the core of American values.
I dare you to be free.