Happy Fourth of July! Let’s all celebrate independence, eat burgers and watch fireworks. Cue explosion. Just kidding, I’m in the Netherlands. The only celebration I’ll be attending here is my personal brownie baking party tonight. Attendance Count: One.
Besides continually asking myself why there is no adulting manual (come on Penguin Random House, I’m depending on you), this year and today is particular, I thought I’d muse a bit on what America means. Celebrating the Fourth is something I’ve never particularly found exceptional joy in. Don’t get me wrong: parties are fun. But in our current political environment, I don’t feel much like celebrating what I see as steps back in the freedoms and rights our government is meant to protect.
A podcast I listen to called Oh Witch Please made a point the other day that really resonated with me. The commentator said, “Why should tolerance be seen as something good?” It gave me pause. Tolerance is one of those buzzwords like synergy with a good rap, right?
According to this woman, tolerance means that you tolerate (Thank you Captain Obvious). That doesn’t mean by default you accept your opponents as people or their disparate opinions as having value. In fact, it means the opposite. You merely tolerate their presence as a necessity. So instead of asking for Americans to be tolerant of each other – I think a better message this partisan summer is to ask Americans to listen and accept that on many issues – we disagree. I know it’s a hard ask, and this holiday isn’t about making wishes.
Civility is something our political system has been lacking for far too many years. Although Alexander Hamilton vehemently disagreed with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on a number of issues – they respected one another as people. Despite everything, throughout our nation’s history – compromise was never something out of reach. Just think about the Great Compromise of 1850, that allowed California entry into the United States while allowing the South to ignore the Wilmot Proviso for another couple years. Compromise, accepting disagreement and moving to enact legislation despite deeply rooted tradition is what our nation stood for, and part of what we celebrate today.
The Fourth is about celebrating our country’s independence from Great Britain (the first Brexit, as my friend Rebecca hilariously said). It’s about celebrating our determination to protect freedom of speech, religion and expression without one being at odds from the others. It’s the belief that we should have a say in who governs us. It’s about the belief that all people have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Cheesy, I know, but hey blame Thomas Jefferson for that.
As one person, it’s true that my impact is small. I fully know just how minuscule my readership is. But that’s how all good ideas start: small. Like the Revolution, staying together because of the things that unite us instead of focusing on our differences seems to me a much more sustainable strategy to creating innovation and change.
America is a country of around 330 million people. We comprise an incredible amount of diversity from coast to coast. It’s no surprise that we clash on our belief systems. It is what we share, however, that continues to keep me (somewhat) proud to be an American. Freedom of speech, the ideals of a representative democracy, separation of powers, the division of church and state, and the belief that people are good at heart and want diversity because they know that exposure to new ideas with newer people is the cornerstore behind our country.
So this Independence Day, celebrate with lots of beer and flag cakes. Instead of tolerating differences, accept that there are some things you won’t agree on and listen to what someone else has to say. And make sure to eat lots of BBQ.