By Brock Pierce
Much has been written about the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence. For over two centuries, the notion that Americans “… are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has been a source of inspiration for millions of people. But, what is the right to Life? What does the right to Liberty really mean? What is the pursuit of Happiness? What is it about these words that have inspired so many people for so long?
Life is a process which creates itself, resulting in an unending flowering of forms. Living beings are alive because we change our forms, through conception, growth, diminishment, and death. The right to Life is the right to be alive; the right to live; the right to flourish. The right to Life is the right to be conceived, the right to grow, the right to diminish, and the right to die. For you to be without the right to Life is to deny the truth that you are alive; that you are a part of Life; that your life matters.
Liberty is the state of being free of unnecessary restrictions; being free to make your own choices; being free to experience your own life. The right to Liberty is the right to be who you are, the right to become who you choose to become, the right to think what you choose to think, and the right to feel what you choose to feel. Your right to Liberty is your right to choose what you consent to and what you withhold your consent from. For you to be without the right to Liberty is to deny the truth that you are free to live your life; that you are free to choose; that you are free to feel what you feel.
Happiness is the openness within your heart that allows you to feel a sense of oneness, freedom, gratitude, and joy. The pursuit of Happiness is the attempt to attain and maintain that state of open-heartedness. The right to pursue Happiness is the right to open your heart as you choose. The right to pursue Happiness is the right to love as you choose; the right to love your freedom; the right to love your life.
After two centuries of industrialization, in the midst of our always-on entertainment and constant distractions, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that our agrarian founding fathers were in touch with life enough to be aware of what it means to be human. They were aware of life’s conception, growth, diminishment, and death. They were aware of what constituted freedom and its opposite. They were aware of what constituted happiness and what constituted misery. The fact that they did not extend the values of egalitarian brotherhood to all peoples is a testament to their failures — but it is unwise to dismiss the wisdom in what is perhaps their greatest success. The valuing of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is the valuing of humanity; the valuing of humility; the valuing of harmony.
Humanity is the collective human experience, the aspect of being a human being. To value humanity is to value being human more than abstractions, more than money, fame, or power. To value humanity is to value the reality of our lives, our liberties, and our pursuit of happiness, complete with its ups and downs; twists and turns.
Humility is the groundedness of our existence, the balancing of the highs with the lows of life. To value humility is to value the ground on which we stand just as much as the stars above. To value humility is to value the frailty and limitations of our human existence, valuing our fumbles, flaws, and failures as essential parts of the great play of life.
Harmony is the cooperative coming together of life in action. To value harmony is to value the beauty of consonance over dissonance. To value harmony is to value the synergy of collective action, the immensity of orchestral symphony, and the unity available in diversity, allowing the whole to be far greater than the sum of its parts.
Now more than ever, we as Americans must affirm the values of humanity, humility, and harmony. We must affirm the truths of our human, shared reality rather than the falsehoods, fictions, and illusions that reside in our stories. We must affirm that, yes, our rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are unalienable, unassailable, and unbreakable — but, this time, let’s not feign exclusivity. This time, let’s include all of us. This time, let’s embrace Life, Liberty, and Happiness for all — because they are not just our rights, they belong to everyone.