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May 29, 2015

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OTHER VOICES:

Being an American is about more than slogans

Whatever happened to the idea published by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her book, “Friends of Voltaire” (circa 1906), in which it states, “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it”?

Today, it seems you will be personally attacked if what you say disagrees with what someone else believes. As Americans, we embrace the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But liberty does not mean license. The Bill of Rights endows us not only with rights and freedoms, but corresponding obligations and duties.

Freedom of speech does not just mean expressing our opinions, but allowing others to express theirs, listening, respecting their beliefs and engaging in civil discourse, even if we disagree. It does not entitle us to slander and condemn those who hold a different opinion. Our country seems to have lost that idea, and that is why we are so polarized. Everyone is yelling, no one is listening or keeping an open mind, and so it makes compromise impossible. We are in political gridlock. Nothing is getting done.

Patriotism is being used for political purposes, not as an inspirational way to unite us. We have gone from burning the flag and chanting, “Hell no ... we won’t go,” to waving the flag and proclaiming the motto “Support our troops.” Those who wrap themselves in the flag are not necessarily patriots.

Another constitutional right and duty is that of voting. Many Americans have died to secure that right, so why do so few exercise this freedom?

Of more concern, many people are either uninformed or misinformed on the issues and candidates, so they do not vote wisely. Later, both non-voters and uninformed voters complain that the country is not being managed the way they wish.

A democracy will not last unless it has an educated populace, and self-government without self-discipline will not work. It requires reading something besides novels and listening to more than just one radio or TV news station.

Communicate with your elected officials and let them know your opinions. Frequently, I hear, “We’ve got to take our country back.” Maybe we do. But you, ladies and gentlemen, are our country. It is all of us, including the people who disagree with you. All of us need to look at ourselves and determine how we can take ourselves back to being good citizens and true Americans. Then, the country will be back. The bottom line is that being an American means more than just proclaiming so. It means being a good citizen and doing what is good for your country, not just for your own selfish agenda.

Today, I am going to fly the flag, celebrate my right to freely assemble with friends and discuss any topic we want, from politics to how long the burgers should stay on the grill. We may even disagree, but we will understand one another, be civil and remain friends. I am also going to get out my album from Vietnam and remember the comrades whom I lost there, who secured for me the life I have lived and enjoyed as a true American.

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