July is always a thought provoking month for me. All the hoopla about Independence Day, then my birthday in a couple weeks… it gets the brain cells churning, asking questions and pondering the validity of the common, trite answers most folks give to basic questions about this time of year. It’s like they’re on autopilot, and they’ve never really asked themselves whether the answers they rattle off are based on actual fact.
Take Independence Day, for example. As Americans we celebrate the birth of our nation on July 4th, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We celebrate with parades and fireworks and bar-b-ques, decorating anything and everything in Red, White and Blue. But the Continental Congress voted for Independence on July 2nd, 1776. The Declaration was sent to the states for ratification two days later, with the first signature landing on that oh-so-famous parchment a month later, on August 2nd.
And what about the stories of Betsy Ross? Turns out that the real Betsy Ross was a hard-nosed, snuff-loving businesswoman. Who knew? Personally, I like the idea that our flag was created by an independent, no-nonsense woman who knew her own mind. The whole white-washed, mild mannered widow thing is too milk-toast for my taste.
So, if these cultural “truths” are less than accurate, I ask myself, then what other “truths” that I routinely accept as valid also warrant reexamination? Am I really as [weak, strong, caring, insensitive, smart, dumb, lazy, disciplined, fill in your favorite blank] as I think I am? Why should I care? Does it matter that my personal mental framework may be out of sync with reality?
I think it does. I think it is very important to know the reality of what happened, and of how things really are, even if the reality is less exciting than what I might want it to be. For example, it’s more glamorous to hold the mental image of our Founding Fathers all gathered around a table, signing the Declaration of Independence at one dramatic, coordinated ceremony, full of pomp and seriousness befitting the birth of a nation. The reality that it was signed over days or weeks, one or two autographs at a time, lacks a certain punch. But that’s what really happened, and few other Americans know that, let alone care.
Likewise, I’ve been told by others my whole life who and what I am, and very few of those declarations have held up under scrutiny. When I am able to back away from the “shoulds”, when I take the time to examine, as objectively as possible, whether or not my actions and true beliefs match the epithets sent my way, they also fall down like the white-washed myths surrounding our nation’s birth.
But why should I bother? Because the payoff for taking that time, for daring to examine assumed truths to discover their validity or falsehood is true independence, the independence of mind. The payoff is a truer sense of freedom and self-knowledge, and from that comes a richer and more satisfying life.
When I study what really it took to launch these United States, to me it is even more miraculous than the sanitized versions perpetrated in history books and common cultural mythology. I marvel at the strength, courage, foresight and sheer cussedness of my ancestors, several of whom fought in the War for Independence.
Likewise, when I take the time to discovery the reality of my own mind, I discover treasures and abilities I never would have guessed were there. The truth is more wonderful than I had hoped, and less dramatic than I have been told. But I don’t mind. I would rather know the truth than be deluded by someone else’s fiction.
So, when you wave that Red, White and Blue flag and celebrate the Independence of these United States, take a moment to question the myths, personal and cultural, and to explore the truths waiting for you. After all, they say that the truth will set you free.