Independence Day

The mark of a truly free and intelligent person is the ability to seek out those who disagree with you and to learn from them.

Independence Day

Image by cdd20 from Pixabay

4 July 2020

Dear Gus,

Today is your day! You have told us many times that you really care about your “freedom and happiness.” Today is Independence Day, a whole day dedicated to the idea of freedom, to the liberty that the colonies wrested from the British Crown because they too liked your freedom and happiness idea. After all, the Declaration of Independence, adopted on this day in 1776, holds up these three great values: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. You talk about liberty and happiness all the time, but you also value life. Whenever I ask you what are the two most important rules when playing baseball, you always tell me:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Stay alive.

Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness: You’re about as American as it gets, kiddo!

As you celebrate today, I want you to think about a few things. First, I’d like you to think about the availability of freedom to all in this country. In recent months, you’ve asked me questions about a number of things you’ve heard in the news or that you might have heard Mom and me talking about. You’ve asked me about George Floyd, Colin Kaepernick, and why it costs so much money for us to go see the doctor. A while back, we talked about an incident on the playground where someone decided that one of your friends couldn’t play a game because his skin was “too dark.” You’ve also asked me, “What’s up with Donald Trump and this wall? He’s always talking about some wall!”

In the midst of these conversations, we’ve talked quite a lot about how fortunate we are to be able to afford food and a house, and even medical care most of the time.

In a way, all of these conversations are about freedom. When we talk about the cost of healthcare, for example, we have to recognize that some people don’t have the freedom to see doctors whenever they want to or need to, because they worry about how much it will cost. Your mom and I have been in that position before.

When we talk about Donald Trump and the wall, we are really talking about who is free to come to our country and what kinds of rules we must put in place to help them get here safely.

When we talk about Colin Kaepernick, we are talking about the freedom that we have to say what we believe, to do it peacefully, even if other people aren’t particularly interested in what we have to say. I remember you connected Colin Kaepernick to Martin Luther King, Jr., and we talked about how sometimes when we speak up, some people won’t like what we have to say. But, as Albus Dumbledore reminds us, a time will come “when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” Even when it seems hard, it’s always best to do what’s right.

When we talk about George Floyd, we are talking about the ways in which some people in this country don’t feel free; they don’t feel like they’re being treated equally by the people in charge. For a variety of reasons, they don’t feel like they can move freely through the world without being the target of suspicion or of violence. When you asked me who George Floyd was, I told you what happened to him, and you started talking about Jackie Robinson and Harriet Tubman. I told you a little bit about Malcolm X and Shirley Chisholm. You brought up Rosa Parks and that your friend was Barack Obama during your third grade “Wax Museum” project.

Pay attention to these stories. Always be thankful for the freedom that you have, but also think about whether or not there’s a way that you can help extend that freedom to everyone around you. You don’t know who Fannie Lou Hamer is, but in 1971 she gave a very famous speech where she said this: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

This leads me to my second idea. As you think more and more about what freedom is and who gets to have it, always be willing to learn, to listen to the perspectives of others. It can be very easy to find some information that supports your own beliefs. But the mark of a truly free and intelligent person is the ability to seek out those who disagree with you and to learn from them. After listening, you may still disagree, but at least you will have learned why you think what you think. You will have tested your ideas.

You might even change your mind, and that’s okay too. We have to be willing to listen and to listen fairly. We have to be willing to change our minds. Take Dr. Karl Weick’s advice: “Argue as if you’re right and listen as if you’re wrong.”

Finally, always remember that things will not be like this forever. Philosophers throughout the ages have shown us that the world is always changing:

  • Heraclitus told us that no one can step in the same river twice.
  • The Buddha said that nothing in the universe is permanent.
  • The Apostle Paul told us that the world is constantly changing and evolving, “groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” He also told us that the old things are gone and the new things are here.
  • Marcus Aurelius told us that “what keeps the whole world in existence is change.”
  • Sam Cooke told us that “a change is gonna come”; Bob Dylan told us that “everything passes, everything changes” and that “the times they are a-changin',” and George Harrison reminded us that “all things must pass.”

The question isn’t whether things will change, but how they’ll change and what your role will be in that change. What will you do to ensure that your neighbors and your friends enjoy the same freedoms you do? How will you help to make sure that July 4th is what it promises to be: a celebration of life and liberty for all?

It’s a big job. But I know you’ll be up to it when the time comes. Keep paying attention and keep asking questions.