I truly believe that under all the fireworks, barbeques, and swimming pools, Independence Day should be a day of reflection on how far we've come as a nation since the Declaration of Independence was signed 244 years ago. We've seen a lot in our almost two and a half centuries of being American, and we've changed a lot, too. We've expanded from a small group of 13 colonies to a massive 50 states spanning across an entire continent (and beyond!). We've contributed a lot to the world: electricity, labor unions, motion pictures... However many of us forget the cost at which we were able to get where we are today. Many Americans look outwardly to find villains: communists, nazis, fascists, yet we've collectively committed crimes that are equally abhorent: like the trail of tears or the centuries of slavery that ended only to be followed by decades of civil injustice. It's important to recognize and remember these darker aspects of our story not only to avoid repeating these atrocious mistakes, but to truly understand who we are as a people. Don't get me wrong, I think America is swell! I'm not trying to dampen your celebration. All I'm saying is we can't lose our perspective on who we really are. We can't pick and choose the parts of our history we wish to remember. We must take the good with the bad, learn from our mistakes, make amends, and move on.
Another manner in which we've changed greatly is the idea of America being the land of freedom. It's something we tout even in our national anthem. I believe that America is the land of the free in that it unshackled itself of unfair British rule, but I disagree with those who say we are a land of Freedom. This isn't because I'm one of those people who believes in small government. Most of what I'm talking about has its roots in social behaviors. An adult cannot talk to a child that is not his own without being suspected of being a pedophile. A woman cannot wear even tastefully revealing clothing without being called a lot of names. A person cannot talk about religion without being labeled a zealot. We've come to repress ourselves so much that it's practically impossible to do things people considered perfectly normal even 50 years ago. Here me out - I believe that instead of the land of Freedom we should really emphasize the fact that America is the land of Opportunity. This has always been true throughout our history, and I hope will always be a facet of American life: that any person can, through hard work, a little ingenuity, and more hard work achieve just about anything he or she sets out to do. Great examples include the Vanderbilt family, the Hoover Dam, or Thomas Edison. This is what makes America great - not our military history or our football teams - but the welcoming arms of Opportunity.
Think about it.
Happy Fourth of July!