Today is Independence Day, our nation’s 234th birthday. Times have been tough in this country for the past couple of years, but I truly believe that America is still a land of opportunity. I do sometimes worry, however, that our culture is losing the optimism and perseverance that are such definitive American qualities. I worry that negativity and fear are becoming as American as baseball and apple pie. There seems to be a sense of helplessness in this country that is crippling on both an individual and national level.
It is unfortunate that the United States has had a decade of trying times in which the nation’s leadership has asked nothing of its citizens. After September 11th, there was a massive upwelling of patriotism as ordinary citizens, overwhelmed by the loss of human life and the sacrifices of so many police officers and firefighters, wanted to find ways to serve their country. We waited for direction from our leaders. We waited to be told what was required of us. We were ready to make serious changes in our lifestyles and priorities. But all that was asked of us was that we go shopping.
After President Obama was elected, there was an energy and excitement among many people, especially the nation’s younger generations of voters. Not only had the country elected the first African American president, the country had chosen messages of hope and optimism over messages of cynicism and fear. Not everyone was pleased with the election results, of course, but those that were felt energized. Again, we waited to be told how to transform our energy into service for our country. Again, nothing was asked of us.
It has become clear to me that those of us who want to make our nation stronger cannot sit around waiting to be told what to do. Many Americans figured this out long before I did. I’m thinking of those individuals who joined the military or their local emergency response departments after September 11th. I’m also thinking of those who went green long ago in an effort to preserve our nation’s natural beauty and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I’m thinking of those who have volunteered their time to local organizations that make their communities stronger. These Americans deserve to feel especially proud this Independence Day.
For the rest of us, myself included, it’s time to stop feeling helpless and to actually do something. One thing we can all do to make our country stronger is to take care of ourselves financially. Many things that are part of a frugal lifestyle are not only good for our wallets, but good for our country as well. As individuals, we can choose to drive smaller cars and put fewer miles on them. We can do our small part to reduce the nation’s need to play Russian roulette with the Gulf Coast or the Alaskan shoreline. We can stop giving so much oil money to nations that breed fanatical lunatics who would like to destroy us.
We can take care of our local communities, which is generally a good way to take care of ourselves as well. Think about all the services your local government provides that make your community stronger, healthier, and a more enjoyable place to live. No matter where you live in the country, there’s a very good chance that your local government is broke. Budgets have been slashed as far as they can go. The county and municipal employees who haven’t been laid off are stretched thin. Those services you enjoy are going to suffer as a result. Find out what you can do to contribute to your library, parks, schools, or public hospitals. Volunteer your time. Fill the gaps where you can. If you don’t want your taxes raised and you don’t want your services cut, your time can make a difference. It is in your financial interest to have public places to educate your children, get some outdoor exercise, and check out books.
If we consider all of the things we can do as individuals to make our country stronger, there’s no need to feel helpless. We can all choose to live below our means and make purchases that align with our values. We can all lend a hand to our communities when they are in need. If nothing else, we will have a positive impact on our own small spheres of influence. We might even accomplish more than that. After all, our national culture is just a conglomeration of over 300 million individuals’ values and lifestyles. Each one of us who chooses optimism, responsibility, and financial independence shifts our culture just a bit in that direction. It isn’t a lot to ask of ourselves.