I often find myself wishing the conversation about what it means to love America were a little more thoughtful. When trying to answer questions like these, it feels right to start with the least controversial answer. Why not begin where we can all agree? Here is my attempt at doing that: At least in part, to love America means to love the idea of democracy. My guess is that few Americans, no matter where you live or what shaped you, would disagree with this. We have never been more united than when resisting tyranny, whether it be in the form of World War II Nazis or Cold War Communists. Indeed, it was the hunger for the democratic ideal that inspired tens of thousands of colonists to pick up muskets, endure brutal and exposed winters, and die on a battlefield without ever getting to enjoy the outcome of their fight.
To me, this suggests that loving America is much more complex than loving a flag with 50 stars and 13 stripes. The flag is a symbol for something deeper. It is a symbol for a choice we have all made that as we grow together, our society needs some degree of organization and protection and that we should all have a voice in deciding how that organization and protection unfolds.
But like all living things, democracy needs nourishment. And the one nutrient that democracy absolutely needs for its survival is the information that its participants use to make thoughtful decisions about how to organize and protect themselves. If democracy is to be healthy, the information that is fed to its participants must be healthy. We simply cannot have a marketplace of ideas if we can’t trust the foundations upon which the ideas are sold to us.
Of course, the information that we use to make decisions as democratic participants is never going to be perfect. All leaders, journalists, and political factions are going to get things wrong at times because the world is complicated and humans are imperfect. But this should never be an excuse to relax our standards for the information we consume and share. While we can never achieve the perfect ideal of truth, we can and should strive in good faith to be honest about our facts and reflect reality as authentically as we know it to be. Indeed, it is impossible to have a democracy without making this effort. Democracy dies if our truth dies. There is no debate here. Democracy and truth are too intertwined to argue that one can live without the other.
So loving America means that we—citizens, journalists, and elected leaders—examine and vet the information we share, in the same way that parents carefully vet the content that reaches the eyes of their children. In a very real way, to love America means to live as though the pursuit of truth is something sacred.
Some questions to hold as we move into this next phase together, whatever it may be, whatever it form it takes.
What do I value that makes me care so much about how this turns out?
How do I remind myself of those values even when it is noisy?
How do I nurture them and take care of them as we move forward?
How can we take all of this 10% less seriously and still honor the hell out of these values?
How can we laugh in the process?
What might other people value that makes them care so much?
How can I move through painful moments in ways that affirm life?
How can I make art out of this moment?
How do I take care of myself?
How do we take care of each other?
How do I build the world I want to live in? What is my part?
How do I build the world I want in a way that allows me to respect myself?
How do I build the world I want to live in a way that future generations will admire?
How do we build the world we want in a way that affirms the connections between us that we often pretend we don’t need but really, really need?
How can I build the world I want in a way that might inspire a young child looking for their own answers to these questions?
This year, I finished writing my second novel. It is a book I am totally in love with, but unfortunately COVID-19 has required me to postpone the already long process of publication. In the meantime, I wait patiently—like so many of us—to get to the other side of this.
The story is about an impressionist painter whose daughter disappears at the 1900 World Fair in Paris. In the years that follow, he fills the space left by her loss with eccentric acts of philanthropy—creating a menagerie for animals wounded in the collateral fire of the first world war, letting war orphans crash on his estate, using fashion shows to smuggle Jews to Brazil. Then at the end of the second world war he is suddenly told that his daughter—who inspired all these insane acts—has been alive the whole time in London.
Writing this book naturally required quite a bit of research about the world wars. Aside from their history being engrossing and fascinating, I repeatedly found myself shocked at how many men and women died so that one day a boy like myself could live comfortably. It sounds cliché, but after enough real faces are added to a story it becomes obvious why some truths are spoken so often that they become clichés.
Over time, I started to feel a debt to these men and women that bordered on guilt. At some point, though, it occurred to me that there was so much I could do to build a world that syncs with my values—and also doesn’t require me to get shot at or blown up. So ever since I finished writing, I’ve slowly been fumbling to find my own way to do my part.
Surely at this moment every one of us sees some place where they wished the world was more in line with what they care about most deeply. This truth is more poignant than ever as we head into this election. So I share all of this to invite you to find your own way to contribute to the moment. It could be anything: volunteering to be a poll worker, making calls, sending texts, providing food to folks waiting in long lines. In this final week, it hardly takes any digging to find a way to help. Some of these things might sound like a lot of work, or even fall outside of your comfort zone. And this is true. But they also don’t require you to get shot or blown up.
So consider this a challenge.
If this post resonates, you can explore further here: /Vote.org
Here is something precious that no one can take away from you—because you already have it. In fact, it might be everything and the only thing you need to live a full and meaningful life. It might surpass all the wisdom you could ever get from all the books and blogs ever published. And it is already in you. How empowering is that?
Let me prove it. I invite you to sit or stand comfortably. Then I invite you to close your eyes and imagine a posture that signifies strength, dignity, and fearlessness. Finally I invite you to actually embody that posture. Go ahead—Stop reading, imagine such a posture, and then get into it.
What does it look like? I will venture a guess. Perhaps you put your body into an erect position with your arms hanging at your sides. I also bet your chin was raised slightly and your chest was open and out. How did I do?
If I got it right, it's not too surprising. I have asked this question many times and typically this is the posture people adopt when they think of strength and fearlessness. I am going to make a case that everything you need to know about living well is embedded in this posture. And the fact that it was already inside of you implies that you already know everything there is to know about living well.
This configuration with your body erect and your chin up and your chest out—what does it convey? First and foremost, by placing your chest out, you are putting your heart first. To me, this conveys the sacred importance of clarifying your deepest values and letting them lead the way through life. Your body is telling you that when you use your heart, your deepest values, as the compass to guide you, then you will always be on the right side of life.
The second piece of wisdom inherent in this posture is its utter vulnerability. There is such power in this stance, such fearlessness. By opening yourself up to life, by not guarding it or defending your heart, you are saying something about what is most important to you. You are making a commitment with yourself and with the world that in some way your values are worth dying for. That you refuse to live a life that makes you small or that makes you compromise that which makes life most alive and meaningful.
And what about that slight uptilt of the chin? Here, your body is portraying its pride in who you are, in your chosen values, that they are nothing to be ashamed of. It embodies a loving acceptance in what you present to the world. It is you never apologizing for or compromising who you are.
Values, vulnerability, commitment, and acceptance. One could replace all of these words with one: Love. And no one needed to tell you how to manifest it in your own body. You knew.
If this post resonates, you can explore more here: /A Liberated Mind