Tag Archives: Independence Day

Compassion and empathy in the U.S. Constitution?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionAs the Independence Day holiday approaches each year, I reread the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This time I mainly focused on the First Amendment. Here’s what it says.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.

In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.

I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.

Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.

Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.

national symbol, bald eagle

Our national emblem.

The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.

The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.

hiking trail, Virginia

What path will we take?

None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.

As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?

How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

7 Comments

Filed under column, history, holidays, human interest, news, writing

The America that I love

sunrise,

Rural Sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m grateful to have been born in the United States. I realize that’s an easy statement for me to make given my lineage and geographic life space.

It’s taken me a while to recognize my absolute privilege as a natural born Caucasian American male citizen. Coming of age in the turbulent civil rights era of the 1960s, I should have caught on much earlier.

I couldn’t help but follow the progress of those volatile days. All earned headlines in newspapers, and plenty of airtime on the evening news. Long before the Internet or smartphones, that’s how we kept up to date with ongoing daily events.

There was plenty to absorb. Times were tense. The Cuban missile crisis, persistent protests for civil and equal rights for minorities and women, anti-war protests, urban riots, and assassinations are all indelibly etched in my psyche.

Given today’s political rancor, I’m appalled at the actions and comments of others toward the poor, minorities of every kind, and the down-and-out of today’s global society. It’s like everything is coming undone. I struggle with what to do, what to say, how to act.

My parents instilled in their children a sense of fairness, justice, and equality for all. I think that came from their knowledge of previous generations of hard work, personal experience with injustice, and an absolute desire to ensure their offspring had a better life than they did.

work ethic, Amish gathering hay

Work ethic in action.

In that, my good folks more than succeeded. They instilled in us a strong work ethic, a desire to serve, the importance of community, and the need to connect with others.

I think my devoted wife can say the same about her upbringing on her family farm. Those core values have been the foundation of our 45 years together, cemented by a love that has survived and evolved through the joys and heartaches that life lays out for each and every one of us.

Unfortunately, others in this diverse nation are not so fortunate, if only because of their race, religion, economic situation, or demographic roots. For a variety of legitimate reasons, they rest uneasily in our society.

I yearn for the day when I can erase those words. In the meantime, I see the anniversary of the independence of our great nation as a reminder to continue to help wherever and whenever I can.

As a thankful American, I see that goal as my continued responsibility. Whether through words or actions or donations or genuinely associating with others beyond my comfort zone, I must do what I can to help within my grasp and power however limited that may be.

I must linger with the poor, the destitute, and the powerless. I must listen to their cries, their calls for justice, and their desire to fulfill their basic needs.

I must learn from those who have so much less than me. They have much to teach me, to help me grow, to help me understand, to help me live.

As Americans on this pinnacle national holiday, we need to linger with one another, listen to one another, and learn from one another. Doing so is for the common good of us all.

Shouldn’t it be the goal for all of us to improve responsibly the country we all love so much? After all, the Pledge of Allegiance ends, “…with liberty and justice for all.” Can’t we all help make it so?

sunset

Rural sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

13 Comments

Filed under holidays, news, writing

The real reason to celebrate July 4th

D.O.G. Street by Bruce Stambaugh

Many of the tenets of our democratic republic were formed in Williamsburg, VA along D.O.G. Street.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Watching starbursts of fireworks from five miles above the earth was an unexpected treat.

My family and I were flying back from vacation late on July 3, 1988. Our hour-long flight path took us along the southern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Shortly after we were airborne, the sky began to pop with burst after colorful burst of fireworks.

Parade by Bruce Stambaugh

Parades are just part of the annual Fourth of July celebrations in the United States.

All along the route towns large and small expressed their jubilation for America’s Independence Day holiday with pyrotechnic displays. From high above I imagined the various sparkling bursts reflecting the broad diversity of folks that comprise this great country. Necks craned skyward, people from many cultures, races and religions in urban parks, county fairgrounds or on their own back porches had to also be admiring their local kaleidoscope of explosions.

As the last sparks flickered, I had to wonder then, as I wonder now, if the real meaning behind the celebratory fireworks is fully understood. As they picked up their chairs and folded their blankets to return home, what were they thinking? Was it just another fireworks display or did they truly comprehend the meaning of the day?

Those are questions that needed to be asked then just as they need to be asked today. Remembering our historic roots helps us to focus on where we are now and where it is we need to be going tomorrow.

Fourth of July decorations by Bruce Stambaugh

Homes like this one in Lakeside, OH will be decorated for the Fourth of July all across the U.S.


As we celebrate another Independence Day in the United States, here are a few historical facts that cannot be changed, though some have tried to distort the truth. The Continental Congress actually declared its independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. The revolutionary document, penned by Thomas Jefferson, was signed July 4, 1776, making the radical pronouncement official.

At great risk to their fame, fortune and reputations, these bold men, and they were all men, set down the groundwork of a new nation. That foundation was based on one essential notion, freedom.

A few years later that central idea wove its way into the heart of the U.S. Constitution in the form of the first 10 amendments commonly called the Bill of Rights. They itemized specific freedoms, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to gather, among others.

British flag by Bruce StambaughThe people of the American colonies wanted to shake the hold of Great Britain’s rule and run their own lives. This great document announced a new form of government for all peoples. Without it, anarchy would have ruled.

Since its initial adoption the Constitution of the United States has been amended to appropriately represent rights and freedoms for all of the country’s peoples, regardless of gender, race or creed as the population and society’s mores have evolved. To be sure, that evolution has had its civil rough spots to say the least.

From our present perspective, it can be easy to think that some things always were. “In God We Trust,” for example, was added to our coins and currency in 1864 at the end of the Civil War. The phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was not added until 1954 during the McCarthy communism scare era.

The altitude at which we enjoy the July 4th fireworks isn’t terribly important. The attitude of appreciation and a clear understanding and application of how and why our basic freedoms exist, however, are essential for appropriate social discourse.

As the fireworks explode in honor of this July 4th, what will you revere about Independence Day?

Amber waves of grain by Bruce Stambaugh

Religious freedom was the primary moving force for Amish immigrating to the United States, where their amber waves of grain still roll today.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

4 Comments

Filed under Amish, column, family, history, holidays, Lakeside, news, Ohio, photography, travel, writing