Monday, July 2, 2012

Just How ‘United’ Is the U.S.A.?

Being born on July 4th, making me what composer George M. Cohan called “A Yankee Doodle Dandy,” I’ve always had great fondness for Independence Day. I wear American flag T-shirts, we proudly display the American flag in front of our house, and I’m always stirred when patriotic songs like “Stars and Stripes Forever” are played.

The observance, of course, commemorates bold statesmen like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry signing documents in 1776 declaring the new nation’s independence from Great Britain. (Wish I could have been there!) This act created the United States of America, but 236 years later one has to wonder just how “united” the U.S.A. really is.

We’re a nation polarized on many issues. A great divide tears at the very fabric of the U.S.A., with citizens in sharp, passionate and sometimes vitriolic disagreement on issues ranging from abortion to firearms, from healthcare to immigration, from sexual preferences to whether we should be “one nation under God.” We seem more untied these days than united.

How did we get this way?

Over the past several years I’ve had the privilege of writing two books about successful, privately owned companies that have now reached the fourth generation of family ownership. These businesses are among the tiny minority of companies that manage to remain “in the family” for more than two generations. That’s because it’s not easy to pass along values, vision and ideals from one generation to the next. Especially in a complex entity like a company – or a country. These businesses have been the exceptions.

A “generation” is typically defined as about 30 years, the span during which children grow up and start producing the next generation. Doing the math, this would mean the U.S.A. is well into its eighth generation. Considering how difficult it is to perpetuate a successful enterprise even to generation No. 4, it’s little wonder our nation is wobbling with generations 7 and 8.

It used to be “democracy” was synonymous with being governed by the majority, but in recent decades, “minority rule” seems to have taken over. Every special interest group is flexing its muscle, the vocal minority imposing its will on a comparatively silent majority.

Perhaps one factor contributing to this fragmentation is confusing unity with uniformity or unanimity. When the U.S. Constitution states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” that does not mean identical. When it talks about the “inalienable right” to “the pursuit of happiness,” this does not imply guarantees or entitlement. The individual carries the responsibility for engaging in this pursuit. But as a society, we seem to have forgotten that.

The Bible offers one of the best descriptions of unity found anywhere: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2).

Of course, we can’t consider this as a guideline because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s edict in 1947 about the so-called “separation of church and state.” This judgment has since become construed to mean not only that the state cannot impose religion upon the people, but also that people must avoid any inclusion of faith in the public square.

Gradually, our nation has drifted away from a conscious awareness of God’s involvement in daily affairs of mankind – despite declarations to the contrary by founding fathers like Jefferson, Adams, George Washington and others. And it seems God, understanding He’s no longer welcome, has graciously withdrawn. Without a constant spiritual compass, we’ve acquired a condition described in the Bible as everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This description seems apt for where our “tolerant,” politically correct society today.

So the real question is not how did we get this way, but rather, where will we go from here?

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