Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching. – Thomas Jefferson
This time of year is a good time to reflect on the myriad of things that make this country exceptional and inspiring. Given everything that’s been going on in our politics, our culture, and our communities, I find myself rediscovering what it means to be an American. And how much I believe in the ideal.
Yes, we’re messy. Yes, we fight. Yes, we struggle with inequality. And yes, we even behave badly sometimes. We let the ideal down as citizens and as leaders.
As Americans we’re not perfect beings. However, I do believe that we have the capacity to live up to our ideals every single day. I believe that our job is to help lift others up when they need it most. I believe that as Americans we can be the shining light and the example of what it means to live up to your highest potential.
Even when we sometimes fail.
I believe in all the tenants that this country was founded on: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thanks to the courageous actions of our founding fathers and countless heroic citizens, we have freedom.
Freedom is a precious gift, and one that we need to make sure we defend by living up to those ideals that this country was founded on. As Americans, we are all capable of this.
Let’s face it, the Founding Fathers were far from perfect. Thomas Jefferson introduced a bill to end slavery in 1779, yet he owned slaves at Monticello. Benjamin Franklin, known for his brilliance as an inventor, scientist and diplomat led a troubled private life. Alexander Hamilton argued for the Constitution, founded our nation’s financial system, had a torrid affair and died in a duel. They were human beings riddled with contradictions yet striving to make the world a better place.
Even with all of their faults, they were still able to work together and craft something amazing. The concepts put forth in the Declaration of Independence were quite radical at the time: We’re going to have self-rule and not kings. We’re going to have religious freedom. As citizens, we have rights and responsibilities. These were firsts. And we sometimes forget how powerful that was.
The Founding Fathers believed that as Americans we had to be both educated and informed, because it was our responsibility to be better and more importantly make the world better for future generations. The Founding Fathers charged us to lead, and that’s the responsibility that we have today.
As Americans, it’s our responsibility to model the ideals. That’s our charge. It’s not about our own power and status, it’s about building institutions and communities and families that are better off because of us, and that we pay forward all the gifts we’ve been given.
As Americans we can ask ourselves daily:
When do we need to let go?
When do we need to lift somebody up?
When do we need to help somebody else develop and grow?
As Americans and as leaders we can all step up to live out these ideals.
I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world. – Ta-Nehisi Coates