Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Self-Evident

So I was thinking about the US Declaration of Independence the other day. I would like to say this turn of thought was because I am the sort of bespectacled intellectual who sits in her garret and strokes her goatee in her lint-free black turtleneck sweater and ponders the important documents of civilization. While I am bespectacled and I do have that one odd whisker, this was not the case. The monkeys checked a DVD of old Schoolhouse Rock! songs out from the library and there was rather a catchy tune to the Declaration of Independence one. Be that as it may, it got me to thinking.

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.

Call me a nerd, but that bit of writing still gives me chills every time I read it. Was there ever a more ingeniously crafted rhetorical sentence? Probably, but this has at least got to be in the top ten. For starters, do not let the tights deceive you. These men had some big brass ones to sit down and write this little love note to the King of England. "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." Thomas Jefferson sat down and licked his quill and said "Look buddy, we got together and there are some pretty obvious things you're missing here." Self-evident. Duh. And then they went on to outline a few of these no-brainers and started a war. A war that started a country. I'm a citizen of that country, as are many of my readers (To my non-American readers: I promise this won't be some sort of flag-waving manifesto. Just keep reading.) In spite of the many shortcomings of this country and the particularly embarrassing way that we behave when abroad and the really obnoxious xenophobic things that we utter publicly, it's a pretty cool country. It's kind of like your mother. It drives you crazy, but you love it anyway. But I promised no flag waving. (Oh! Have I got a flag story for you! I'll have to remember to tell that sometime.)

What I really want to talk about is that last little bit. The "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" bit. I know, I know, they originally wrote "pursuit of Wealth" and then changed it, but let's assume they changed it because they realized that wealth does not equal happiness. So let's stick with Happiness. Are these truths self evident? Is it obvious that all men are created equal? Is it such a no-brainer that our unalienable rights are to these things first and foremost? Do we live as if they are? (These can be answered by my non-American friends, too.)

According to our wig wearing granddaddies, you have the irrefutable right to Life. Do you choose life? Do we go out there and exercise that right every day? That right to live and live fully and as we believe we ought to? Or do we loiter around the edges of it wondering when it will come and give us a wink and a nod? Is it obvious that we've got this thing called Life going on?

How about Liberty? Liberty is tricky, isn't it? We certainly believe that we are free, right? No one is my master. I am free to be me. Just like the magazines and the television and my parents and my peers and that stray nagging voice in the back of my skull tell me I am. I am at Liberty to say what I want, but you over there! You shut up because you're wrong. Or what about just the quiet acquiescence of our Liberty to someone else because we step silently aside and look the other way when someone needs defending? Liberty is tricky and her head is very spiky, so I wouldn't want to give birth to her, but she does have that poem that she mutters when anyone stops to listen: "Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Just as long as those huddled masses don't irritate me or want to breathe my air or don't try to take my money or live on my block or want to marry my kids or something. Yeah, Liberty is a bit thorny. Moving on.

This is my favorite. The pursuit of Happiness. If I walked up to you and snatched your purse, you would pursue me. You would run like the dickens in my direction and try your hardest to catch up with me. You wouldn't worry if you happened to stub your toe along the way, or what other people were thinking about you while you ran, heaving, panting, arms and knees akimbo. Honestly, if you were actually chasing me, you would catch me in no time flat. I'm not a very fast runner and I'm quite clumsy so I would probably run into a lamppost or something and knock myself out. But have you been in a high-speed chase with Happiness lately? I'm no expert on such things, but I have found that when I hang out on the corner like a hooker and wait for the Happiness car to drive by and ask me "Hey, you wanna have a good time?" it doesn't really pan out for me and it takes forever and my feet start to hurt from the stilettos and my pleather skirt chafes and it seems like all the other girls are getting theirs and I'm left standing between a Honey Bucket and a hard place. But, but, buuuuut... when I don my running shoes and head off in hot pursuit, Happiness is just out for a morning jog and I smash right into it and knock it over and roll all around in it before either of us know what hit us. [Side note: If ever I start an ironic throwback indie rock band, I will name it the Dreadful Metaphors. Don't know why I just thought of that.] But like I say, I'm no expert. But you are. You know what makes you happy. You know who has your purse. Are you running after it?

In conclusion, (Ha ha! I just love that. It's like the end of a speech in a grade school oration contest.) these fellows with their slaves and their shiny buckles on their shoes and their giant signatures (way to make those calligraphy lessons work for you, John Hancock!) didn't have it all figured out yet. Over two hundred years later we're still figuring it out, but they sat down at their feathered old-timey laptops and said "Look here. These things oughtta be a law. They should be obvious and they should be guaranteed." Were they at the time? No. Are they now? They should be.

What are your self-evident truths?

24 comments:

  1. Hey TL,
    This made me think of a year end post I put up a couple of years back, Holiday Reflections from 2010

    It ends with this:

    I don't subscribe to the beautiful Shakespearean quote of, "What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason…" To the contrary, I really think that people are all crazy. Not completely crazy…we do have logic and we practice religion or spirituality and we have ideals. But I think mostly we stumble through life taking actions and trying to avoid consequences. In the moment after we act, we often pause to figure out how our actions are consistent with our logic or our religion or our values. Don't misunderstand, I don't believe we always act that way, we do occasionally act deliberately, but I do believe that generally, we are deluded into thinking that we act with intention to a far greater degree than is actually the case.

    The beauty of humanity lies in our ability to occasionally transcend this inherently messy and sometimes bloody process of stumbling through life. That despite ourselves and our own shortcomings, we aspire to realize in this world beautiful ideals...more than two hundred years ago, we formed a nation with its genesis containing these words: We hold these truths to be self evident…that all men (people) are created equal, they we are endowed by our creator (in my belief evolution) with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

    I suppose that if I have anything to offer at this moment, it would be a pleading that we all stop for a moment (perhaps several moments…maybe on a regular basis) and consider our individual and collective positions. That we examine our actions and rather than looking for how our actions are consistent with our values, we look for how those same actions contradict our values. That we hold in our minds and hearts the horror and ugliness of humanity while simultaneously praising the beauty of being human. We aren't unlike those "Founding Fathers," who drafted our Declaration of Independence, who proclaimed the equality of all men while institutionalizing slavery. We are as a species self contradicting and our beauty comes from our occasional ability to stand tall and recognize our hypocrisy, to bravely acknowledge our despicableness and change course.

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    1. That's wonderful, Mike! That's really what I was trying to say with my hookers and my joggers and whatnot. I should have just linked to yours!

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    2. Noooooo! I loved your analogy! It made me laugh and then pause to consider the idea of chasing happiness, of being being in hot pursuit.

      The result was that I wanted to respond, but my first three attempts were LAME. So I went looking for something else. Something that I had composed when my brain was working well.

      I loved this post, particularly that it came from school house rock! I miss those little shows...remember the one about the bill and how it becomes a law?

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    3. "I'm just a bill, I'm only a bill..." I've had that stuck in my head for days!

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    4. Ahhhh! Thank you for that.

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  2. I find it interesting that many people hold up the pursuit of happiness as if *happiness* were a right. It's not happiness, it's the pursuit. You nailed that one. Thanks.

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    1. Hey, thank you! You are so right. The sneaky thing about the pursuit of happiness is that if you are steadily plodding along, working toward your happiness, you tend to be happy while doing so.

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  3. This one gave me chills, TL. Have you been in a high speed chase for happiness? That's a great question. (And the hooker analogy? Still laughing.) I totally agree. I know so many people who complain about life and the unfairness of it all, and why can't I be happy? (said in a whiny voice) Go after it. Search for it. It's out there.

    My self-evident truth? Love God, love yourself, love your fellow man. Do these three things well and everything else will be okay.

    (I am bespectacled and have one odd whisker. We are soul sisters, for sure.)

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    1. Hopefully they were good chills and not the "I'm coming down with something" kind of chills.

      We are soul sisters, indeed. For more reasons than just the odd whisker.

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  4. I love the high speed chase with happiness line. Thanks for giving us all things to think about.

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    1. Thanks, Judy. It's funny, I write this nonsense because it's just what I'm thinking about on any given day and then I'm always surprised to find that it's not just I who think about these things.

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  5. I love how you mentioned that we each know who has our purse, because it's not the same for everyone. Happiness isn't a one size for all type of thing. We have first to realize what it is we want to chase. And I believe that's the hardest part. It's much easier to stand in the corner waiting, isn't it?

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    1. I'm so glad you spotted that, Larissa. I had this whole thing about instead of chasing the purse snatcher would you get drunk and wait for them to bring it back to you or would you run off after someone else who didn't have your purse, and so on. I didn't want to flog a completely dead metaphor, so I'm glad that idea came through anyway. At least to you. And you're especially bright.

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  6. My personal philosophy is "baby steps" and it fits quite a number of topics quite nicely. Happiness is not some big epiphany that will one day reveal itself to you, in its full and glorious entirety. Happiness is every step that brings you closer to a goal, whatever it may be. My emphasis would be on the "pursuit" part. It can be a jog, if you want it to be, but it can also be a stroll. It doesn't matter -- it's the journey.

    My self-evident truth? "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how" (Nietzsche). In other words, "keep your eyes on the prize!"

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    1. Yes, I agree. Nietzsche said and wrote some amazingly uplifting things for a nihilist.
      I agree with you, though. Sometimes it seems like we walk around with our noses out of joint because we don't have everything we want RIGHT NOW. Honestly, we'll never get everything we want. But walking around with our noses out of joint is just going to make the pursuit unpleasant.
      It's the journey.

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  7. Gives me chills too. On some Sundays, I sit on the church pew and feel as if the preacher's sermon is directed pointedly at me. The pursuit of happiness section made me feel that way on this Thursday as I sit at my desk. I fully admit that I am that hooker on the corner, watching the happiness car zoom by --- over and over and over again. I am working on a plan though. Thank you for the gentle reminder keep pursuing. I want my purse.

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    1. Oh wow. Thank you. As a preacher's daughter, I take that as a high compliment. I think we all act like the hooker at one point or another. Sometimes the pursuit seems like too much trouble. My thoughts on this stem from my own grumbling along these lines.
      Thanks for stopping by and run! Go get that purse!

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  8. This is simply wonderful, hilarious, and spot on! I love it. I don't have many things still memorized from school, but that line from the Declaration has clung to my gray matter. I get chills when I think about it and how those guys took courage and convictions to another level.

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    1. I have this and all the lyrics to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" filed away permanently. It's comforting.
      I've been accused of not being terribly patriotic, but it is with wonder and awe that I consider the founding of our country. Warts and all.

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  9. I've been out of touch for a bit, and I opted to peek in on the Periphery and see what's been happening. Of course you know, because I never cease talking about it, that I am currently abroad. (A broad, too, but that's irrelevant right now.)

    This: Liberty is tricky and her head is very spiky, so I wouldn't want to give birth to her, but she does have that poem that she mutters when anyone stops to listen: "Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." brought me to tears. I can't explain why. Perhaps there's a little flag-waving maniac in my heart, missing a bit of my homeland here near the end of my European Vacation (without Chevy Chase). But this ... it just made me cry a little. It made me crave a bit of my home soil, a bit of understanding the conversations around me, even if I don't want to hear them.

    And, now that's passed. Thank you for reminding my heart that I do love my home country, more than some people accuse me of, with all my gallivanting. Now I'm off to get some really good gelato.

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    1. You are such a broad.
      I'm never accused of being too patriotic, but I have a lot of respect for this country. Living and traveling abroad has helped me appreciate it more in a lot of ways. Although, I have been known to be reticent about admitting I was American sometimes.

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  10. I kinda feel like I've been smacked upside the head with the purse of my happiness, in a "thanks, I needed that" sort of way.

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    1. I think we'll have to add "Smacked upside the head with the purse of my happiness" to the T-shirt collection.

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