Remembering the United States of America

I couldn’t help it. The tears just came. I was singing a beautiful arrangement of “America the Beautiful” at a Kauai Chorale rehearsal last week. It was peppered with quotations that reminded me of how brilliant our forefathers were in creating the documents that became the foundation of a country “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It’s been a country that has been in its past an inspiration to the world, and copied by many.

Our country is now facing an identity crisis, and I believe that if we can return to the initial frame of mind and guidelines written by those who had actually experienced being governed by a country that did not respect and honor their rights, we’ll become even better and wiser than before this congressional/candidate confusion came about. Members of one party even stated that they’d vote against what they really thought was best for the country to stay with their party lines. Our forefathers would groan and wonder why they were allowed to stay in office by educated people.

Let’s begins with The Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These words have reverberated through the halls of history all over the world. All people love their freedom.

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

While written 240 years ago, they can still be said, and need to be considered today when we are thinking about who we want to run our country. As I’ve stated before, our students are concerned by our presidential candidates.

Today’s youth often aren’t taught much history in the elementary schools. Attention goes to math and science classes, reading and writing, because scores on these tests help determine funding for the schools. I can still remember being a fifth-grade student and inspired by Nathan Hale’s famous last words before the British hanged him for being a spy in the Revolutionary War, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Civics used to be taught in high schools. Civics in essence, teaches students how to be good citizens. It teaches a citizen’s “rights and also duties to each other as members of a political body (country) and to the government.” The government is the administration of the country. It runs it, protects it and keeps it going.

It is almost human nature to have a scapegoat, someone that we are educated to believe is less than we are, so we project our unhappiness and evil onto them. We can therefore justify treating them less than equal. In India there were the untouchables. In Germany it was the Turks. The French had the Africans, and so did we. But our Constitution said otherwise.

Abraham Lincoln reminded us of it when he wrote the Gettysburg Address in November 1863. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war … testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated … can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.”

We won the war, but racism didn’t end there. A brilliant non-violent visionary named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us again in his “I have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, 100 years later. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” It cost him his life but this time a nation heard, and segregation was legally ended.

There is still racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia and more. Xenophobia is the fear of that which is perceived as foreign or strange. If I have no familiarity with someone who speaks a different language, has a different hair and skin color than my culture and eats really strange things according to my culture, I might be uncomfortable, or I could take the time to get to know that person personally, and even try the new food. I love East Indian cuisine, but I wasn’t raised on it. At some point I decided to try it. It’s enriched my life.

Loving is one of the ways that people open up to new ideas. Perhaps a family that was homophobic finds out that their son is gay, and wants to get married. Wow! They love their son. He loves a man. Either they can cut off the love of their son, or they can lovingly accept the love of his life, and most likely receive love from a new source! Open-heartedness is a way to embrace what we don’t know. Open-heartedness uses the thinking skills of the mind, with the loving skills of the heart. We try something new and observe how we feel.

This past year enough people were against police brutality of minority groups to take and share videos of it. People of all colors protested the obvious lack of justice that occurs when a person is killed before even getting to jail for his hearing. So now police forces are wearing video cams. Transparency is leading to decency, but perhaps we wouldn’t have gone there until the darkness of the actions came to the surface through the protests of those who cared.

Now we are faced with selecting candidates who must swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend our constitution in all branches of government. This is where the civics class would come in handy. What can each of us do to see that our government will honor all beings’ equal rights, help all of us in our general welfare, and pursuits of life, liberty and happiness, while keeping communities calm and protected from outside threats? It takes a country to raise (be) a country. We all have a part we can play. What’s yours?

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org. For more information about Hale Opio Kauai, please go to www.haleopio.org

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