• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Earth Day, 2008

Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them
Albert Einstein

On that first Earth Day, 38 years ago, I was a graduate student at The University of Michigan. Six years earlier Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring awakened many of us to the possibility that human invention could seriously impact life on Earth. And now, 38 years later, we are beset with environmental challenges no one even imagined back in 1970.

This is not the place to write about causes or technical solutions. I’ll leave that to others. My purpose is to look at the human context of these challenges – the place where our dreams, our aspirations, and our fears collide – and the place from which solutions will emerge.

It’s the context of the founders when they wrote the Declaration and the Constitution, and of Lincoln four score years later. And it’s the context of today’s culture wars.

Ultimately, it is the most important challenge of a free people.

Because if we, the people, can’t even agree on the problem – or whether there even is a problem – than what chance have we, the people – you and me – of bequeathing the blessings of liberty to our posterity. And isn’t that our responsibility – to bequeath the blessings of liberty to our posterity – as it was for the generations that came before us?

It seems to me that no matter what else you might think about climate change and other environmental challenges, you must acknowledge that they are serious. Just as you must acknowledge – regardless of your political point-of-view – that the situation in the Middle East is serious, our economic situation is serious, and our health care challenges – made worse by the aging of our population – are serious. And this list only scratches the surface.

We, the people, face serious challenges.

And serious challenges demand serious solutions.

And serious solutions require informed dialogue.

Meanwhile, instead of informed dialogue, we, the people, have stopped talking with each other. We read what we already agree with. We follow the network that gives us the news with our particular slant. And when we do come together, it is to prove that ours is the correct point-of-view. In these most serious of times, we, the people are all too often talking past each other, rather than with each other, arguing and debating instead of problem-solving.

Miracles occur in the strangest of places.
Willie Nelson

I have a business colleague, Ted. Ted is a conservative pro-life religious Christian Republican as I am a liberal free-choice secular Jewish Democrat. I doubt that there’s an issue on the political agenda on which Ted and I agree. Ted and I could be poster children for America’s culture wars. But we’re not. We’re friends.

Over the course of our business relationship, Ted and I have learned to listen to each other’s stories. As we’ve discussed our concerns for our children’s future and our love of the American ideal, we have come to explore our political leanings and our religious beliefs. Not surprisingly, we have come to discover that beneath the surface we share the same dreams, the same aspirations, and even the same fears. As we’ve listened to each other, we’ve also cried for each other. As Ted and I have experienced each other’s humanity, both of us have become more tolerant, we’ve tempered our views, we’ve learned to see each other’s point-of-view, we’ve begun to find common ground, and we’ve experienced the growth that can lie in a difference of opinion.

I’m sure you learned, as I did, that you should never talk politics or religion. It’s bad for business I’ve been told. My experience with Ted – and the many “Teds” I’ve spoken with since I started writing these essays on freedom seven years ago – convince me that this is no longer true. My experience since that first Thanksgiving after the horrors of 9/11 is exactly the opposite. Americans hunger for people with whom they can discuss politics and religion. We crave it, perhaps more so as we are forced to confront the magnitude of the challenges we face. We want to talk about politics and religion. We just don’t want to be argued with, or made to feel inferior.

Americans hunger for someone who will listen to them about their deepest hopes, their aspirations, and their fears, and of the religious beliefs that give meaning and purpose to their lives. And the miracle is that as we listen to them, learning to empathize with their reality, they listen to us, and learn to empathize with our reality.

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded.
Judge Learned Hand

If we carry with us the spirit of liberty everywhere we go, and if we let it infuse our discussions with each other – discussions about our politics and our purpose on Earth – we, the people will cease being strangers to each other, an enemy not to be trusted. We will become, instead, friends.

The spirit of liberty is America at our most creative, our most imaginative, our most compassionate.

The spirit of liberty is America’s great gift to the world.

And it is with the spirit of liberty that – as one – all the peoples of the world can meet the challenges of this Earth Day and the challenges of Earth Days to come.

So let us dedicate ourselves to carrying the spirit of liberty with us, we, the people, so that we may meet the challenges that lie before us, being also, by our own example, an inspiration to the peoples of the world to create an Earth at peace, with liberty, justice and opportunity for all.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2008. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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