Writer’s Block: American Values

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

What does it mean to be an American? What values define our nation and unite our people across political, religious, racial, gender and socioeconomic divides?

As we gear up to celebrate the 241st anniversary of our forefathers’ signing of the Declaration of Independence those can feel like weighty questions, but, I don’t think they have to be.

“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 is perhaps the most well known sentence of the Declaration. It seems such a simple concept — the idea that all people are, by grace and by design, entitled to their lives, their freedom and the choice to enjoy both as they choose to.

Yet, we as a nation have spent more than two centuries parsing out exactly what that means. Under the guidance of scores of elected officials, court justices, social movements and public discourse we have spent the last 241 years continually redefining, reinterpreting and examining exactly how we implement and ensure those unalienable rights.

We have continually strived to evolve and grow as our knowledge and understanding of the world around us and of the conditions of our fellow man have evolved and grown. And our founding fathers made allowances for that continued growth when they established the three branches of the federal government, each with the ability to balance the other.

It hasn’t always been an easy journey. We take steps forward. We take steps backward. We stride into new days with joy and we look back on others with the shame of crystal clear hindsight.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we achieve greatness. Sometimes it’s a little of both at the same time.

“I have never seen the country so divided.” Such were the words uttered by a talk show host whose image glittered on a television set suspended from the ceiling of the gas station I was shopping in earlier this week. I frowned, not because the sentiment upset me, but because I think it’s untrue.

We are witnessing a polarizing period in our country’s history. Our political leaders seem more determined than ever to cleave fiercely and unwaveringly to hyper-partisanship. Sometimes it seems like our elected officials don’t just want to avoid looking for a middle ground, they’re not even willing to  admit a middle ground has ever existed.

So, yes, our nation is experiencing growing pains again. They are loud, perhaps painful, definitely exhausting to watch on the evening news. But to say that our nation has never been so divided? No; that particular moment is reserved for a spring day in the year 1861.

The movements which will ultimately shape our national political landscape are laborious and difficult to access for the average person. We can make our voices heard by calling our congressmen and women, writing letters to the editor, jawing on Facebook and more. But what the impact of such actions will be is hard to judge.

Where we CAN make a demonstrable difference in shaping the fabric of this nation is in our personal lives and one-on-one interactions. After all, what good are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if all we do is look inward to ourselves and how we alone can benefit? Let us instead use our lives and our freedoms to be good to one another. If we do, we just might find that happiness pursues US.

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