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When Independence Day comes around (that's July 4th for Americans who were sleeping in history class!) the flags and buntings come out, the red white and blue beverages and desserts cover the pages of the housekeeping magazines, and the fireworks vendors work overtime. For many, July 4th has become associated with beach sounds and the smell of sunscreen, grilled hot dogs and burgers in the back yard - it's the height of summer vacation season. And if you live in South Central Pennsylvania, Independence day is also observed by re-enactments and living history displays from the battle of Gettysburg, often termed as the turning point of the Civil War.
What gets lost in the celebratory shuffle is what it really means to be a patriot. The day commemorates a time when individuals banded together and said that they were no longer willing to be subject to a king. They decided that they wanted a say in their government, and they wanted to be free (and allow others the freedom) to have life and the pursuit of happiness. Not happiness necessarily, but the pursuit of happiness.
What does that mean to you now, almost 240 years later? How does it impact your habits? Are you actively pursuing the upholding of the standards set by our American forebears? Or have you forgotten some of the parts of patriotism?
- Liberty is like the right of way when driving - the intention is that you yield to it rather than grab it for yourself. Yes, you are free to pursue your life, but are you really a patriot if you do so at the expense of others, or restrict their liberty in the process of pursuing yours? Who designated yours as more important than theirs?
- The founding fathers - and yes, they were all men - determined that you should be granted the right to participate in the decision making of your country. You have representation in the legislature, and the opportunity to vote for the President, the individual with the highest office in the land. Early on in our country, voting power was limited to those who were men, who owned property, who were educated. Now you can vote whether you are a man, a woman, a person of color, educated or relatively uneducated, property owner or not. In how much of this process do you actually exercise your right to participate?
- Are you maintaining and preserving the land that has provided so much prosperity for you and your fellow citizens? When our nation was founded it appeared that the land was limitless and the resources plentiful. Are you leaving clean water and air, trees and wildlife, for future generations to enjoy and benefit from, or are you using it up, cutting it down, or leaving it dirty?.
- Are you viewing your country as a collection of fellow citizens who deserve your attention and care, or do you view other people primarily as competitors for a scarce and finite amount of resources? If you are a patriot, you believe that opportunity is all around. You believe that all are created equal. In our country's early days, sharing of resources was literally the difference between life and death. It still is that way today for some citizens even though their need is often hidden behind walls of homes and dispersed geography.
Your relationship to your community, your country, and your fellow countrymen and women is part of your values. Take the opportunity this Independence Day to consider how you can help this country, YOUR country, move intro fulfilling its potential.