“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~ Nelson Mandela
The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day or July 4th, has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941. From 1776 to the present day, July 4th has been nationally celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues. The history of the 4th of July holiday has made me pause and think about the personal freedoms you and I have everyday.
In 1776, there were 13 American Colonies under the rule of King George III of Britain. Colonial delegates (i.e. George Washington, John and Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and John Jay) met in Philadelphia in September 1774 to give voice to their grievances against the British crown. They issued a declaration of the rights every citizen deserves–liberty, property, assembly and trial by jury. It further declared all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, which include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This powerful document is now known as the Declaration of Independence; it was adopted by the 13 colonies on July 4th, 1776 and cemented our nation’s independence from Britain.
After having that little history lesson, I would like to ask you– what would our nation look like if we had never declared independence? What freedoms do we have that we might not have had otherwise? I would like to highlight two major freedoms that we each regularly enjoy–maybe even without realizing it.
Freedom of Speech
Because of freedom of speech, I can speak up in a work meeting, lead a group, and share the training I have received to help clients. We all have the liberty to get educated, to learn, to think, to read, to write, to form and share opinions. We are free to subscribe to whatever political beliefs we want. We are free to ascribe to any belief system or religion we want. We are free to share what we are passionate about. There are civilizations across the world that do not share this same freedom of speech and thought. We are so lucky!
Freedom to Become
Because we live in America, we are free to BECOME whoever and whatever we want. We are free to wear whatever we want, to fly whatever flag we want, to enter whatever profession we want, to pursue whatever it is that makes us happy. We are free to love whoever we want, free to enter into a same-sex marriage, adopt/birth/create children…We are free to be who we want to be and live however we choose to live. This simple right and privilege is not afforded to all of the humans on earth.
My hope in sharing this post about freedom is that we can recognize why we are each free to make choices, and also to respect the choices our fellow Americans might make. Over the last year plus, we have seen such division in our country; we have seen unkindness; we have seen violence. The great irony behind all of this is that these things are only possible because we live in a free land. The next time that we see someone doing something differently than we would ourselves, what if–instead of judging them, speaking harsh words, or showing unkindness or violence–we were to seek to understand and maybe even support those who are different than we are? How can we embrace our differences in how we each exercise our freedoms? I hope we can use our freedom to respect others and the way they choose to use their freedom. That, in my opinion, is the ultimate expression of freedom.
When we gather with our friends and family to grill and watch fireworks, let’s honor our freedom to speak and our freedom to become whoever we want. This Independence Day, let’s celebrate the fact that we are all free to live as we please because of those who went before us. That is a beautiful thing most certainly worth celebrating!
(We are also free to be educated on important matters like our mental health. If you or someone you care about has been considering starting therapy, exercise your freedom today to schedule a session with me. Contact me to get started!)
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
- History: Fourth of July – Independence Day
- History: Revolutionary War
- Osceola News Gazette: Local leaders: What does Fourth of July mean to you?
- USA Today: History professors remind us what Fourth fireworks truly mean