Lessons Learned From the American Independence

On July 4, 1776, the United States declared independence from Britain and a vigorous new democracy was born. This year, we celebrate our 239th birthday, and our Founding Fathers are probably doing somersaults from the grave and sputtering in wonderment, "Who knew?"

When American patriots defied king, crown, a powerful power structure and even history itself, conventional wisdom was that the fledgling movement could not survive.

There was little more than a deep desire to be free, a belief in the power of determination and the shared aspiration to be independent.

Independence is a scary thought. Whether it is a country, a profession or an individual, the status quo at least represents a known quantity. One learns how to cope with the expected; it is the unexpected that presents the greatest challenges. Psychologists describe the phenomenon as "the devil you know versus the devil you don't know" and it explains why even victims of horrendous treatment will opt to remain in what might seem to be an obviously untenable situation.

It is not that our forefathers had all the answers and were imbued with extraordinary strength and courage. It was simply that their desire for a better life superseded their fear. However, many of us are tentative about moving beyond our fears.

President Barack Obama wrote a best-seller called The Audacity of Hope in which he recounts his life's journey even before his extraordinary presidential run. The audacity is the gall to dare to believe he could be more than his circumstances dictated. Despite negative self-talk and public judgments, he believed he could rise above the statistical probabilities. He makes a cogent argument that what was termed conventional wisdom was often little more than pessimism, it was more myopia than vision, more resignation than hope.

It takes a certain amount of audacity to push past, push through, push on despite the odds or the noise around us.

Those many years ago, as the debate about independence proceeded in back rooms in Philadelphia and other places, the Founding Fathers believed and expressed the belief that others would come to treat us according to how we allowed them to treat us. That bold presumption still stands true today in individual and joint contexts. We send covert and overt messages to those around us about our self-image, what we expect and what we will tolerate.

In a profound but predictable way, it is a truism others relate to us only in ways and to degrees we permit them to. We send both subtle and not too subtle invitations each and every day in encounters big and small.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said power is never voluntarily relinquished by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. It might be an exaggeration to suggest that as individuals we are oppressed. However, in the same way the American patriots realized Britain had no vested interest in voluntarily offering American independence, we must realize any significant progress toward independence must be initiated by us. We cannot simply sit by and hope for change by largesse.

As proven by our founding fathers, real change starts with the audacity of hope. But to enjoy true independence, one must always move from hope toward action.