Do We (Still) Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident

Originally published 7/4/08

The American Film Institute voted it the 29th greatest American movie quote of all-time.

Spit-polished, ramrod straight, eyes ablaze, crimson neck bulging fury, Marine Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) barks defiantly through his tightly clenched pearly whites:

“You can’t handle the truth!”

My dad taught me to value truth as sacred.
My mom taught me to love and put people above all things.

Here’s my truth:

I love America.
I love the idea of America.
I love the spirit of America.
I love the people of America.

As much as I love America, I love my son Adam more.
My highest calling is to do what’s best for him.

My most important job is to make a better world for Adam.

Our highest national value is leaving a better world for our children than was left to us.

If forced to choose between Adam and America, our country has failed us both.

I taught Adam what my parents taught me about truth and love. I encourage him to think for himself, trust his intuition and be responsible for his choices. His power does not come from group think, ignoring his inner compass or blaming someone else.

I’m guided by the question,

“What would love do?”

Love encourages Adam to acknowledge when he “veers off course” or “misses the mark” and to adjust his thinking, actions and behavior.

Love reminds him that making mistakes means he’s making choices. Learning from mistakes means he’s maturing. Not repeating mistakes means he’s on the way to self-mastery.

Love makes it my responsibility as a citizen to acknowledge when America “veers off course” or “misses the mark” and speak it, even if I’m a solitary voice. It’s also my responsibility to help correct it.

Here’s what I see:

America is dangerously off course.
We have severely missed the mark.

We are becoming that which we seek to destroy.

It’s in our language.
It’s in our posture and the way

we treat one another.
It’s in how we speak and relate to the world.

It’s in our beliefs.
We’re the world’s sole superpower.
We’re spreading democracy.
We’re the greatest nation in the world.

It’s in our actions.
We’re aggressive and violent.
We invade and destroy other countries.
We kill countless people and call human beings collateral damage.

We’re “at war” with everything; cancer, drugs, terror and a host of other enemies we are determined to conquer.

We say we value peace, yet at Barnes & Noble…

“Waging Peace” by Scott Ritter is ranked #245,214.
“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu is #786.

Here’s the irony.

The Art of War is not about shock and awe.
It’s about how to AVOID conflict.

The art of war is to avoid war.

Sun Tzu warns that a leader who resorts to violence to win has failed.

We are not who we say we are.

We say we are loving, yet every day we kill each other over anything and everything.

We say we respect unalienable human rights, yet we commit murder, torture and heinous inhuman acts in the name of country, nationalism and patriotism.

We say liberty is our highest value, yet we voluntarily give up liberty for the illusion of security.

We say we are spreading freedom, yet our government uses surveillance to spy on us, propaganda to confuse us, and fear to control us.

We say we are a nation of laws and not men, yet the men who committed the greatest act of lawlessness (war) walk free, hold the highest offices and continue to break the law with impunity.

We say we are citizens of the world, yet we have 2,500,000 troops on 737 military bases in 156 countries (7 countries have new US bases since 9/11, an average of one per year).

We say we stand for energy independence, yet 35 years after long lines and gas rationing we are still addicted to oil and dependent on other countries to supply it.

We say we are tolerant, yet we preach hate and demonize people who are different from us.

We say we cherish free speech, yet we permit our government to confine us to “Free Speech Zones” and squelch public debate about the most vital issues of our time.

We say we seek diplomacy, yet we threaten and use force and mistake it for power.

We say we want to keep our hard-earned money, yet we allow our elected officials to waste a trillion dollars destroying another country instead of investing it to rebuild our own.

We say we value the sanctity of human life, yet our bullets and bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and we’ve never given them a moment of silence or a day of mourning.

We say we can handle the truth, yet we do nothing as our leaders hide (and hide behind) the coffins of our loved ones who make the ultimate sacrifice.

We say we love ourselves, yet tens of millions of us go hungry, homeless and without health care.

We say we love our children, yet we wage endless war, consume resources and degrade the planet such that they face the real danger of an unlivable world.

We say we live in the greatest country in the world, yet we are…

163rd in financial solvency
37th in health care
23rd in happiness

We say, “We’re #1!” We are #1…

1st in consumption
1st in debt
1st in health care costs
1st in crime and murders
1st in military spending

We say we stand for truth, justice and the American way, yet we sit back as our leaders lie to us and commit immoral and illegal acts in our name, while the corporate-owned media talking heads spin the American dream into a 24-hour infomercial for lotions, notions and potions.

We say a lot of things.
We are not who we say we are.

Maybe Col Nathan Jessep is right.
Maybe we can’t handle the truth.

I spend this Independence Day searching my soul and asking:

What does it mean to be an American?
Who are we?
Who do we want to be?

I recall when being an American meant more than a lapel pin, a car magnet or “you’re either with us or against us” bombastic rhetoric.

It meant being kind, compassionate, generous, welcoming, philanthropic, abundant, respected, admired, trusted, loved. It meant the “shining city on the hill” where dreams come true, where you can be whoever you want to be, where you can achieve whatever you’re willing to work for and where you can enjoy it all in the privacy of your own home.

It meant being a great parent was valued more than being an American Idol.

I meet and speak with people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe. I ask them,

“How do you feel about Americans and America?”

I’m always astounded by how people describe Americans as kind, compassionate, generous, welcoming, philanthropic, abundant, fun, respected, admired, trusted and loved. America is the place where dreams come true, where you can be whoever you want to be, where you can achieve whatever you’re willing to work for, where you can enjoy it all in the privacy of your own home.

Yet they describe our government, politics and policies as unkind, ignorant, gluttonous, selfish, disrespectful, insensitive, arrogant, untrustworthy, aggressive, violent and feared.

If what we do reflects who we are, we are not who we say we are.

So, who are we?

We are the beneficiaries of a group of renegade rebels who pledged their lives, property and sacred honor to declare their independence from a King named George. They put everything on the line to secure liberty and guarantee freedom we take for granted.

They declared the words that forever changed the face of history:

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal stations to which the laws of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Are we wise enough to heed their call and courageous enough to declare the causes?

Do we love our country enough to dissolve the political bands and reclaim our moral authority?

It’s a sign of health to look in the mirror and accept the truth about who’s looking back.

It breaks my heart to look in the national mirror and see the America staring back at me.

We are not who we say we are.


We inspire the downtrodden.
We encourage the defeated.
We uplift minds.
We warm hearts.
We stir souls.


When the American flame flickers, the world is left a darker place.

It’s up to me to keep that light shining by shining the light.

It’s the least I can do for the country I love.
It’s the most I can do for my son who I love even more.

“All men are created equal, they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Do we hold these truths

to be self-evident?

No tags for this post.