I hope your Fourth of July weekend is filled with cookouts, friends, family, fireworks, and all the best this holiday has to offer. In addition to enjoying all of these things myself, there is one additional thing I like to do on the Fourth of July. Each year I like to reread the Declaration of Independence.
One of the things that I am always reminded of when I read the Declaration of Independence is that the title of this document reveals only half of the story. Independence from Britain is clearly asserted, but the writing goes further, spelling out exactly what this new experiment in democracy would be dependent upon. This document is also a “declaration of dependence” in that it clearly states its reliance on certain core beliefs and values: “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.” The writers make it clear here and throughout the document that freedom is dependent upon equality and the right to create a fulfilling life.
I find this assertion of core beliefs and values inspiring, because we live in a time when it seems many people can tell you more easily what they don’t believe in than what they do believe in. We live in a time when people define themselves more by what they are independent from than what they are dependent upon. This, of course, is natural when a person is questioning beliefs they have held and are in a period of transition, but I sense that many people end up getting stuck in this ‘in between’ stage, thus having a hard time articulating the core beliefs and values that their lives are built upon.
So in light of this experiment in democracy that we celebrate this weekend, allow me to suggest an experiment we each can try. Take out a sheet of paper and declare on paper your personal beliefs and values, those that you depend on to shape your life. Declare with boldness and clarity what you want your life to be dependent upon. Invite family or friends to do this with you, if you wish, and talk with one another about your core beliefs and values.
Take your time with this, and have fun with it. Don’t worry about how beautiful your language is–just focus on naming the essential truths upon which you strive to build your life. When you are done, put your “John Hancock'” on the bottom and post it on your refrigerator so you can look back on it for guidance, just as we do today with the document our founders wrote in Philadelphia all those years ago.
Note: I am on vacation this week and so am sharing an updated Fourth of July column from several years ago.
Happy Fourth of July to all of you!