This past weekend we celebrated Independence Day. The day when our founding fathers wrote a document that stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. “ Over the centuries we have seen this country of ours grow and develop into the greatest nation in the history of the world. Only in America can an individual write about whatever they wish, and have the federal government guarantee them that right. And it is all because of The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
America however is at a crossroads. One of the things that made America so great was the fact that for a long time American society focused on the well being of others. The creation of the Peace Corps, NASA, the GI Bill, and donations of hundreds of billions of dollars to countries that needed help, just to name a few.
Over the last few decades, Americans have focused on their own individual happiness and allowed consumerism to grow into the dominant force in this country. It is no longer what “Ask what we can do for our country, but what our country can do for me.” Now I am not advocating that we need to stop looking for our own individual happiness. I’m just saying that this should not be our primary focus 24/7. We as a society need to look around and see that people, in our own communities are suffering.
According the Ad Council and FeedingAmerica.org one in eight Americans are battling hunger. ONE IN EIGHT!!!! America is the wealthiest country in the history of the world and a large proportion of our population is battling hunger. Our educational system, instead of developing deductive reasoning or critical thinking skills, is emphasizing standardized testing, that only measure on how a student did on that one test. When a new Apple product comes out, we as Americans have no problem standing in line for hours on end to get it, but when it comes to voting in a national or local election we as a society are too busy to participate.
I recently read a book by Father James Martin, S.J., the culture editor of America Magazine. Father Martin wrote a book called: The Jesuits Guide to (Almost) Everything. (You do not have to be religious to enjoy the book either.) In the book Father Martin talks about how we are allowing our possessions to define who we are as individuals. As I was reading this, it was like an arrow in the head. This is what I had been doing just like everyone else in American culture. Then something else hit me, this consumerism was not making me happy.
I feel true happiness is not in what we own, but how we can help improve our society. Think of how good you feel when you volunteer or when you give a friend sound advice. These are the principles that made America great and what I think we need to get back to. When we as a society work together there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.