Like many countries, the United States celebrates a national holiday to recognize its birth as a sovereign nation. In America’s case, the date is July 4th, the date in 1776 when a group of men issued a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. That document, primarily penned by Thomas Jefferson, contained within its text a vision that would stir men and women to greatness. Part of that vision (“that all men are created equal”) would take a long, long time to achieve. Other parts of that vision (namely, the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”) were more immediate motivating forces. Those rights motivated a farmer from Virginia to lead a ragtag army of revolutionaries against the world’s strongest power. They motivated a tall, gangly lawyer from Illinois to preserve the union. They motivated following generations to fight two world wars. And they motivated a preacher from Georgia to lead the fight for dignity and acceptance of the truth that all men are created equal.
On this day of celebration, pausing to reflect on the principles and rights offered in the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence would be an appropriate activity. Americans should pause to remember what it means to be a citizen of a free nation. We should recall the sacrifices it has taken to keep the country free. George Washington stated, “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered … deeply, … finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” In what has become a mean season of political campaigning, I fear we could be losing sight of the guiding principles that men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King entrusted to our care and keeping.
Instead of dwelling on what divides us, we should embrace what keeps us together. If America is to remain strong, free, and prosperous, it needs great leadership. We need leaders willing to put aside differences to find workable solutions to pressing problems. I believe the vision of the founding fathers can still motivate people to greatness. Albert Camus wrote, “Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.” In fact, freedom permits men and women to become, not just better, but great.
Speaking of greatness — we will shortly have the opportunity to cheer for athletes taking part in the Summer Olympic Games in London. Athletes from around the world will dress proudly in the uniforms of their countries and try their best to achieve Olympic glory. It will be a wonderful opportunity for us to cheer for the athletes from America regardless of whether they win a medal and lasting glory. I would also hope that Americans are magnanimous enough to applaud great performances regardless of the country from which an athlete may come. For those few days in July and August, the nation and the world will come together to honor greatness. It would be a welcomed change if the nation and the world would come together to seek greatness in other endeavors as well once the games have concluded.