• 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

Thanksgiving, 2009

It has been eight years since we observed Thanksgiving in the dark shadow of 9/11, eight years since I wrote the first of these Freedom Essays expressing my deepest gratitude to those who bequeathed to us the blessings of liberty, the giants on whose shoulders we all stand.

My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Welch, taught us how the Pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution and that Thanksgiving was a time to celebrate our religious freedoms. He made sure we learned the Mayflower Compact with its commitment to that civil body politic. And he taught us of the sacrifices of that first winter when more than half the colony perished.

These were the great themes I was taught of America, the great themes that Mr. Welch taught us in that western Pennsylvania schoolhouse so many years ago.

Freedom. The freedom to worship as we please, to believe what we want, no matter how dangerous or unpopular it might be. As Emerson, wrote “nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

Cooperation. The commitment we freely make to one another to cooperate together for the greater good in a civil body politic. The recognition of what we have seen throughout our history, that with cooperation 1 + 1 miraculously makes 3.

Shared Sacrifice. The recognition throughout our history that—just like that brutal winter of 1620—like Valley Forge—like the beaches of Normandy—and like that dark day in September eight years ago—we are in this together, that our fates are connected, that, as Benjamin Franklin put it “We must hang together, gentlemen … else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

On that Thanksgiving Day eight years ago, the Thanksgiving after 9/11, America was united as one people. Our freedoms had been attacked by a terrorist enemy committed to our destruction. The sacrifice of 9/11 was shared throughout the country as everyone knew someone who knew someone who died that horrific day. And a spirit of cooperation existed in America like we had not seen since the Second World War. Not just in America, but throughout most of the world.

How different it is today. There is too little cooperation in the halls of Government, far less than we need to deal with the challenges we face. With the money wells gushing again on Wall Street while the spigots are still turned off on Main Street, the people are angry. Where is the shared-sacrifice, the sense that we are all in this together? In the absence of cooperation and in the presence of anger, our freedoms are inexorably slipping away. 1 + 1 is fast becoming ½.

I don’t think this is what we want, we the people. Nor is it keeping with our responsibilities. As I remember learning in Mr. Welch’s classroom, it is our responsibility, we the people … our solemn duty … to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity just as those who came before us secured these blessings for us.


One of the first things a good hockey coach will do when things aren’t going right is to get back to basics; get his players’ focus back on the fundamentals of the game. Do the little things right and the big things will follow.

We, the people, need to do the same thing. We need to focus on the fundamentals: freedom, cooperation and shared sacrifice. Get these right and we unleash the most imaginative, innovative and productive force the world has ever seen. Get it wrong and 1 + 1 quickly becomes ½.

This week’s news brought a story that illustrates in one small way what it means to get it right. Liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are teaming up with conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation to sue the Government on what they see as over-criminalization. Opposite ends of the political spectrum joining up to protect our freedoms.

Contrast this with the country’s dominant personalities. Perhaps the only thing Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann would agree on is how each is good for the other’s ratings. Limbaugh, Olbermann, Palin, Pelosi, Reid, McConnell—everyone wants to define us by our labels: right, left, conservative, liberal, hawk, dove, gay, straight, etc etc etc. Their success too often lies in defining us by how we’re different from each other. Divide and conquer. The problem with this is that, at its best, it is win-lose; at its worst it is lose-lose. Except of course for big-money which is all too happy to take advantage of the situation for their own selfish ends; they’re the big winners while we, the people, are the big losers.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Heritage Foundation have gone back to the basics. Forget the labels, they’re saying. Focus on the fundamentals. It’s their shared belief that over-criminalization constitutes tyranny by the state and they are cooperating to take these freedoms back. The American Civil Liberties Union wins. The Heritage Foundation wins. And so do we, the people; we win. Win-Win-Win.

Be the change you want to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our faith, part of that legacy of religious freedom passed down from that first Thanksgiving. America is many faiths. And while they all speak differently about man’s relationship to the universe, they speak with one voice about our moral relationship to each other: love they neighbor as thyself; that which is hateful to you, do not do to another; not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. Why? Because the Golden Rule points the way to win-win-win.

America—at our best—speaks with this very same voice, the voice of win-win-win. During the time of great shared sacrifice that was World War II, Judge Learned Hand had the honor of addressing many thousands of Americans—including a large number of new citizens—at an I Am an American Day ceremony in Central Park. His words that day reflect the Golden Rule, the voice of win-win-win:

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; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

I am most grateful this Thanksgiving for the spirit of liberty for it is the wellspring for all that is good in America. It is America’s spiritual foundation—it honors freedom, it engenders cooperation and it reflects, not only America’s 400 years of shared sacrifice, but the shared sacrifices of freedom-seeking people throughout perhaps 2 million years of human history.

Back to fundamentals. It is the spirit of liberty that can reenergize America and unleash American imagination, innovation and productivity. It is the spirit of liberty that can turn win-lose and lose-lose into win-win-win. It is the spirit of liberty that can make 1 + 1 again equal 3. It is the spirit of liberty that can lead us to that shining city on the hill.

May this be a joyful Thanksgiving for you and your loved ones. And may it signal a renewed commitment in us all to manifest the spirit of liberty in everything we do.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2009. 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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  1. Great piece, Stan.

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