Lessons & Lyricism from the Declaration of Independence

It’s July Fourth, Independence Day. Today, 240 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was adopted and the 13 colonies began their claim for independence from Britain. That’s what this federal holiday was designed to celebrate. (It seems to get mixed up with Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day a bit!)

The Declaration of Independence was adopted many years ago, but declaring independence from any shackles, tangible or otherwise, that imprison us has always been a human desire.

We’re really, really good at enslaving ourselves. At “allowing” ourselves to be enslaved. We stay in jobs we hate, in relationships that are no longer healthy, keep diets that aren’t good for us and that we don’t enjoy, stick to workouts that we can’t stand, and insist on powering through boring books because “we should” or to prove to ourselves that we can.

Why?

Time is the most precious commodity we have, and we—repeatedly—give it away. We waste it. Worse, none of us know how much of it we have left so it’s not like we know we have some to spare. Still, whether you have an hour left or 100 years, you don’t have any to spare. Every moment is precious, so spend them wisely.

Reclaiming Freedom

In the spirit of Independence Day, let’s take a look at the original draft of the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence and see how it applies to us, individually, today. Those forefathers might have been onto something!

  • “(People) should declare the causes that impel them to change.” Change is terror, excitement and hope all rolled up into one big ball. However, if you want to change for the better, you first need to pinpoint the causes that make you want to change. Do you want to be able to play with your grandchildren without stopping to catch your breath? Want better test results on next year’s physical? All about re-teaching you palate to appreciate the flavors of whole foods instead of processed products? These are all examples of causes that can impel you to seek change.
  • “All experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable.” Humans are extremely adaptable. We have to be. We mirror our surroundings, and vice versa. While “evils” might be a bit strong in today’s lexicon, it’s just another way of saying “something negative.” In other words, we’re more likely to have negative experiences if those negatives are acceptable around us—by us, our family, and our friends. Change our environment and our mindset, and it’s a lot easier to ditch those negatives. This might require surrounding ourselves by those who support newly adopted healthy habits, or seeing a therapist to help us with negative body image.
  • “He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies and ships of war.” Can we pause a minute and just appreciate the sheer poetic lyricism of this sentence? Of course, “he” is the English government, but can easily be a metaphor for any barrier in our life. Maybe it’s the voice in our heads (you know the one). Even when we are largely at peace, or should be, it’s tempting to keep “standing armies and ships of war” at the ready—just in case. But what does that do for us? How can we really be at peace when we’re constantly looking out for trouble, fists clenched and ready to fight even when no enemy is in sight? It drains our resources, it tires us out, and it makes us bitter. Learning to let those armies within us go home and those ships dock is one of the best things we can do for our wellness. If we don’t, we can’t experience real, full peace.
  • “The road to happiness is open to us, too.” Actually, there are several roads to happiness, and all of them are open. It just might not be the same road you’ve been on most of your life, the same one your friends are on, or the same one that the majority are telling you it so obviously is. On July 4th, remind yourself that, indeed, the roads to happiness are open to you, too.

I encourage everyone to read the full Declaration of Independence today. It’s an easy, fast and surprisingly very passionate read. Plus, it makes a great addition to any standing traditions you may already have! Of course, it’s a very old document, and some of the language reflects that. It’s not a love letter by any means. As a Native American woman, Independence Day is already a minefield for me, and the following passage doesn’t make it any better:

“He (British rule) has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions of existence.”

Still, it’s American history. It’s what many people are celebrating, in one way or another, across the US today. Shouldn’t we at least know what exactly those fireworks, hot dogs, and flags are supposed to be representing?

(Photo from Wikipedia, non-copyrighted image)

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