The whole idea of a democracy is accepting you’ll never fully get your own way in government. Yes, I know we celebrate the imagined rugged individual pulling on his sole-proprietorship bootstraps fully autonomous while enjoying socialized infrastructure and tax subsidies – it’s what makes America great….and charmingly peculiar. But letting consensus dictate means all individuals at some point are going to be let down. It’s an inevitability: Death, taxes and disappointment.
So you don’t like everything President Obama has done? No one should. We’re Americans!
Disappointment is good. The worst thing in a democracy is for one person or a group to be elated because all their pet issues are satisfied completely. Dictators are satisfied. Unanimity is tyranny. The very quotable Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
And if we took a vote on that – we wouldn’t all agree.
Our Founding Fathers get painted with a brush known as “hindsight bias.” Because our government is stable with the same constitution for over 200 years we think of our founders as having planned it so they must have seen it all coming. People don’t concur on the Founding Fathers’ beliefs and intentions nor did the Founding Fathers themselves. They were split between the Jeffersonians, the Federalists, the Anglophiles and the Francophiles and even those respective groups were not in lockstep.
The Hamilton-Burr duel was the climax of the conflict of the Democratic-Republicansand Federalists. That Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton whose portrait is in your pocket on the ten-dollar bill, was killed as a result of political acrimony starting at the beginning of the country. The only thing The Founders agreed upon completely was being alive during the 18th Century.
Modern politicians, like those trying to appeal to the tea party, will claim they understand the Founding Fathers’ intentions and how we’ve gotten away from them. Yes, there was a perfect time in the past and if we just change accordingly we’ll be perfect again.
So if the Founding Fathers fought with each other in vigorous debate (Thomas Jefferson and John Adams also had a falling out after the 1800 election) and none of us will ever be 100% content with our government as it is the nature of democracy – why is the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in our Declaration of Independence? Candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain mistakenly said “happiness” is in the Constitution. It isn’t. And the phrase is now a battle cry for accumulating affluence – or doing what we feel like.
Carol V. Hamilton wrote in the History News Network, “The Greek word for “happiness” is eudaimonia. …[Its] invoking Greek and Roman ethics in whicheudaimonia is linked to aretê, the Greek word for ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence.’ In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle wrote, ‘the happy man lives well and does well; for we have practically defined happiness as a sort of good life and good action.’ Happiness is not, he argued, equivalent to wealth, honor, or pleasure. It is an end in itself, not the means to an end.”
Meaning “happiness” as Jefferson knew it when he included the phrase meant serving your community and seeking the greater good. Happiness to him was more altruism than bankroll. Think of soup kitchen coordinators as pursuing happiness. Think of poll workers as pursuing happiness. Think of adult literacy volunteers as pursuing happiness. Think of social workers and foster parents as pursuing happiness. Think of the Red Cross as pursuing happiness. Think of firefighters, paramedics and police officers as pursuing happiness. Think of your neighborhood council members as pursuing happiness. Think of PTA members as pursuing happiness.
Think of public defenders as pursuing happiness. Think of free clinic physicians as pursuing happiness. Think of community organizers and advocates for the poor as pursuing happiness. Think of church leaders as pursuing happiness. Think of mentors as pursuing happiness. Think of civic nerds and all those annoying people who put you on their community actions mailing lists as pursuing happiness.
That is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But that doesn’t mean there’s no conflict and that we’re happy. We’re not meant to be happy. We’re in a democracy.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far