• 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

Memorial Day, 2016

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.
Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg Address

We the people have an election in five months. And it’s surfacing a lot of anger. The anger is a reflection of the underlying reality that for many of us, America doesn’t seem to be working; that Washington isn’t working. It’s a reflection of the belief that the game is rigged in favor of ‘them’ against ‘us.’ And it’s a natural consequence of the culture wars: my rights and your rights don’t seem to be able to coexist.

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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The anger we see surfacing in this election serves notice that our current form of government has, for significant numbers of us, become destructive of the ends of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. As this anger plays out in the next 5 months — and in the months and years that follow — we will again find ourselves altering our form of government so as to most likely effect we the people’s safety and happiness.

This is not something we haven’t done before. We did it first in 1776, not just altering but abolishing the King’s government, replacing it 11 years later with our Constitution. We did it again after the civil war, altering government with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, abolishing slavery, defining citizenship and extending the equal protection clause to the actions of the states. We altered Government again during the Progressive era 120 years ago and again 85 years ago in response to the depression and World War 2. And we did it 50 years ago as the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s ushered in an era of increasing individual rights, setting the stage for the identity politics and political correctness that we are now in the process of re-constructing.

If we the people are to alter our government so as to most likely effect our safety and happiness, on what principles are we to lay the foundation of this government?

Which brings us to Memorial Day.

… that these dead shall not have died in vain.
Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

At the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan, as Captain John Miller [Tom Hanks] lies dying from the Nazi bullet he took saving Ryan, Miller looks Ryan in the eye and says to him “Earn this.”

Isn’t this our responsibility to the men and women who died so that we the people might reap the Blessings of Liberty. Isn’t this our responsibility, we the people, to earn their sacrifice?

So who were these people, these men and women who died so we might be here? To whom do we owe our blessings?

And here’s where things get dicey, starting up close and personal. Had America not won our War of Independence, it’s extremely unlikely that I would even be on this planet, let alone be the proud white father of a beautiful African American son. And yet, had southern slave-owners not shared in the sacrifices of that war, it’s extremely doubtful that America would have won.

How am I to earn the sacrifice of someone whose very way of life I find abhorrent? No slave-owner  died so that 200 years later I could adopt a black son; he died protecting his way of life, a way of life that includes owning slaves.

This is the situation we all find ourselves in for we can be certain that the men and women who died in America’s wars represented the full spectrum of American diversity — Rich. Poor. Christian. Jew. Muslim. Conservative. Liberal. Gay. Straight. Lesbian. Transgender. Black. White. Native American. Asian. European. African. Indian. Even racists and bigots. No matter what group one opposes, there will have been people from that group whose sacrifice we must earn. If you think ‘they’ don’t belong, whoever ‘they’ are, keep in mind that you are alive today because ‘they’ died.

As Martin Luther King, Jr put it “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

It is for us the living … to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

To earn their sacrifice is to dedicate ourselves to the proposition that all of us are created equal … even those of us whose beliefs we find abhorrent.

This is the basic principle upon which we are to lay the foundation of our government. We do this not only to keep faith with those whose sacrifice we honor. We do it for ourselves and our posterity, for the Blessings of Liberty are in direct proportion to the extent we create a society in which all have the opportunity to thrive. America is at our greatest when we set aside our differences, collaborating and cooperating, for the common good.

This is no better illustrated than in the work of my friend, Carl Terzian, who recently passed away after a long and very successful public relations career in Los Angeles.

As part of his practice, Carl would invite groups of people to breakfast or lunch or end-of-day cocktails. Being at Carl’s Table meant sharing your story with 25 or so business professionals, university presidents, heads of nonprofits and government leaders. At Carl’s Table the emphasis was not on how you made a living but how you made a life, particularly on how you gave back. This is what Carl called the Back of the Business Card.

Being at Carl’s Table meant one saw up close the Blessings of Liberty. One saw a man whose mother had died of cancer meet the Executive Director of a cancer research organization, an introduction that would lead to his joining the Board.  And a woman with a passion for childhood education meeting the President of a nonprofit mentoring at-risk teenagers and joining the Board. And an attorney and a banker becoming friends after meeting at Carl’s Table with that friendship leading, perhaps years later, to them working together on a common business interest that resulted in the creation of new jobs. Over the course of each year, Carl’s Table was the source of several hundred new nonprofit boardmembers and several billion dollars of commerce. The Blessings of Liberty. At work. And up close. Win-Win-Win-Win.

As we shared our stories at Carl’s Table, sharing the backs of our cards, our differences dissolved away. It didn’t matter whether we were white or black or straight or gay or Christian or Jewish or Muslim or agnostic or atheist or born here or an immigrant — the differences became irrelevant.

What was relevant—the constants at Carl’s Table — were how our stories reflected the content of our character and our abiding faith in the Blessings of Liberty; our faith that by getting to know each other, by sharing our stories, by honoring our differences, by giving back, by acting in our collective self-interest we could build community, creating a world that was better for us all. Win-Win-Win-Win.

We are not enemies but friends.
Abraham Lincoln

The next five months will be more intense than any Presidential campaign in memory, perhaps the most intense since 1860. The electorate is divided along race, education, class and gender like never before. The anger we see is not going away; we should not be surprised if it boils over into violence as it did in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention. The campaign will be divisive, nasty and ugly.

But anger doesn’t solve problems. Reasoning together solves problems. When the storm ends, when the fever breaks, we the people know what we need to do to keep America great. It will be returning to the simple principles that were always on display at Carl’s Table — to the content of our character and our deep faith in the Blessings of Liberty.

By keeping these principles alive through this most bitter of elections, by rising above the anger and the simplistic us vs them solutions they suggest, by focusing as best we can on electing a government that speaks for all the people … even the ones we might disagree with … this is how we the people usher in a new birth of freedom with liberty and justice for all … this is how we earn the sacrifice of those who gave their last full measure of devotion

Let Freedom Ring.

 

 

Copyright © 2016. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided the essay is reproduced unedited and in its entirety, its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright NOTICE is included.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Greatly appreciate your sharing your thoughts on why America is Great and what we must each do to earn the sacrifices made by those who gave their life serving this country.

    Your remembrance of Carl Terzian is also appreciated.

    It is unfortunate we live in a time when the “best we can elect” may not be the “best to lead” if what we want is a country in which all human citizens are deemed to be created equal, provided equal rights and afforded equal access without restriction, have equal participation in governance without participation by non-human persons, and refrain from prejudicial discrimination. I believe these are the ideals you expressed desiring and what many of us believe are not only the core of American values, but also why we are patriots. What we need is a call for patriots whom hold these values dear to come together and mend the unraveling of the tapestry and make it better than it ever was.

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