”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These lines are from The Declaration of Independence, the signing of which we celebrate this week in the United States. The Declaration is a brilliant piece of writing that not only galvanized the Revolution and spirited birth of a new nation, but has also stood as a symbol of freedom and hope for people all over the world. Because a small group of colonists stood up to the most powerful empire on earth, America has become a symbol for those who stand against oppression and despotism.
However, rather than focusing on history or nationalism, pause this year to consider the question of how we live out the values of Freedom and Independence in our relationships. Are we making the intentional choice to embrace Freedom and Independence in all of our relationships?
Admittedly, Freedom and Independence have been equated with Rugged Individualism in the United States. Many experts say that we are more polarized and divided than ever before. Does this mean the authors of the Declaration were wrong?
I don’t think so. I think it means we have misunderstood the meaning of Freedom and Independence. Above, I quoted the most famous lines from the Declaration, but let’s look at the final, less well-known passage from the same document:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
A mutual surrendering of lives, fortune, and honor? How is that Freedom or Independence? It sounds like they belong to one another. If one fails, they all fail!
The paradox of true Freedom and Independence is that they come from interdependence. Freedom exists for me only in the free surrender of my rights and desires for the sake of the other. I take less for me, so that the other may have enough. Marriage is all about allowing my spouse to daily inconvenience me and impede my own pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. My children, friends, colleagues, bosses, teachers, my own parents, and all other personal connections, long or brief, require the same. Every single intersection of my life with another, presents me with the opportunity to exercise my freedom by making room to make their lives better. This is not codependency, or getting lost in the needs of others. Rather, it is a unified effort of a community of strong, healthy individuals freely choosing to seek the well-being of others. When all people make such a choice, then all find the goals of their own pursuit in the process.
This Independence Day, pause to consider Freedom and Independence from a different perspective. The Declaration was not written to allow us do whatever we want, like rebellious children, free from ties or responsibilities to other people. It is about the Freedom to make the choice, as an Independent person, to tie your life in committed, bonded relationship to others. Make the choice to grow in a healthy understanding of these values, and you will be able to truly celebrate Independence Day!
Today’s article was written by Bill Sergott, a syndicated writer, speaker, and coach with the organization he founded: Heresy of the Month, LLC. Bill is married to Teresa, one of the seminar and e-course instructors with SmartRelationships.org, and they have three children. Bill has worked as a nonprofit and corporate consultant and leader for more than 20 years in community development, social justice issues, equality, racial reconciliation, team building, and many other areas of human concern. You can contact him to have him speak at your organization or event and read more of his writing in his blog at www.heresyofthemonth.typepad.com.