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Good Ways to Celebrate Our Independence

"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.”  Erma Bombeck

Well, according to Gallup Polls, a lot of folks aren’t loving their nation so much these days.  I get it.  Sometimes I want to find a place to run to, but not for long.  I laugh and cry and scratch my head in response to news events.  Sometimes my heart swells too.  I get choked up at the singing of patriotic songs.  And I’ve changed my position on policies and politics over the years in response to various encounters.

Listening to a history lecture on the causes of the Civil War while in army bootcamp, I could feel my face getting hot.  Before I knew it, I had jumped up shouting the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about whether a state has the right to secede from the Union!

Well, that was the history I was taught in Tennessee. Now I have a wider perspective.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, it’s about understanding who we are as Americans, holding each other and this country together – that’s what I’m thinking about as July 4th nears.

And here’s what I am doing. For one thing, I am re-reading parts of Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion for understanding and perspective.

Haidt maintains that conservatives regard humans as inherently imperfect, needing constraints and accountability to behave well (those constraints are laws, traditions, institutions). The liberal view is that people are inherently good and flourish where constraints are removed. I’m not sure if he’s right, but it’s provocative.  He quotes Bertrand Russell in saying that every country and community is exposed to two opposite dangers: ossification though too much discipline and reverence for tradition or dissolution through too much growth of individualism and personal independence to the point that cooperation is impossible.

Haidt’s resolution is that we need both the yin and the yang (to use the Chinese idea of complementary forces).  We need both stability and order and a progress and reform and above all we need dense networks of trust (friendships) where people can be counted on to extend their generosity beyond their own group boundaries.

That yin/yang concept is echoed in a Braver Angels’ podcast I listened to – How to Fight Right with Hamilton and Jefferson. It helped me, again, with perspective.  Hamilton and Jefferson were arch enemies.  They were not gentlemanly about it either.  What they were is committed to something bigger than themselves.  And they were willing to stay… both literally and metaphorically in hot seats without walking away and without burning the place down.  Historians now seem to agree that either’s view, taken to the extreme, would have been ruination for our budding country.

The third thing I’m doing is to remind myself that it’s possible to change.  I’ve changed my opinions, but what about really big changes in how we view the other?  John and I re-watched the movie, Best of Enemies.  It may have some flaws, but it’s based on a true story.  The end where we see the real characters – a female black activist and a male Ku Klux Klan member in relationship and then we read that she gave the eulogy at his funeral, inspires and elevates me. Change can happen, we can summon the better angels of our nature.

And the fourth thing I’m doing to celebrate the fourth of July is not by watching fireworks, but by going into the woods, letting the trees embrace me…gazing at the lake, embracing the joy of having a country that celebrates its independence with fireworks, yes, but especially picnics.

We need that renewal to keep going.  By the way, we know the research on the healing aspects of nature.  A new study came out recently that shows that viewing water outdoors for only 2 minutes lowers blood pressure and heart rate (the wider bodies bring more tranquility).

Psychologists guess that the human response to water may have revolutionary roots, being attuned to visual cues for water helped our ancestors avoid dehydration. The mere sight of water can be a relief. Blue spaces and green spaces help patients recover from anxiety. Viewing an aquarium seems to be better than hypnosis for inducing a mildly meditative state.

(Dentists have been putting aquariums in dental offices for years.  And I’m betting it’s one of the reasons people like fishing.  I just returned from 3 days of fishing on the ocean, doing rod meditation.  Despite the rain, the experience was hugely relaxing.) We could all use more relaxation and renewal and tranquility as we go forward together as individuals in community in kinship and as a nation.

Happy 4th, may we find a way to celebrate that helps us understand ourselves and each other, gives us perspective and inspiration, and helps us renew and calm ourselves.  It could be a book, a movie, a podcast, or a picnic in the forest by a lake …or just looking at an aquarium.

How might we journey together to The Good Life by finding useful ways to celebrate our Independence as a nation?


(and thank you to those courageous people who attended the Braver Angels workshop in Cashmere!)


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