This post has been bouncing around in the back of my mind since July 4th, and today seems like a good day for it to come out.
Something I learned fairly early about being engaged is that everybody who learns of your upcoming nuptials will give you advice (occasionally, said advice is even solicited). Over the past few months, one concept has become a refrain.
Love is a choice. Marriage, a relationship, a commitment: they are all choices that a couple makes every day. The explanation is simple: most people ‘fall in love’, which implies uncontrollable emotions and feelings that sweep one away. However, the tricky bit of passionate emotions is that they fade. It is then that the choice to love becomes important: when new and powerful emotions pull one in different directions, we have to make the conscious decision to hold to that original passion. When we are faced with a difficult fight, and the choice of winning or loving, we have to choose love and commitment.
Behind this lies the premise that rights come with responsibilities. We begin learning this as children: if you want a pet, you have to take care of it, etc. The concept carries through. Most Western societies today promote the idea that humans have the right to choose who to marry (with various caveats). With that, then, comes the personal responsibility of each couple to make the marriage successful. If you want to enjoy something that you feel is a natural right, then you must also care for and nourish that right, even when doing so is unpleasant or distasteful. If you want a cat, you have to clean litterboxes. If you want a healthy marriage, you have to make concessions.
If you want a democracy, you have to lose elections.
That’s where this post started on Independence Day, and that’s where it arrived at when I started writing it, as our President issued a statement about the USA ‘worshipping God’.
The Constitution, in the First Amendment, prohibits the government from either aiding or distressing any religion. This clause is used, righteously, often, to allow American citizens to practice what they believe. If we believe in this inalienable right, we bear the responsibility of extending it to others. We must fight for those of other religions to hold the same rights as we do- even when we disagree with their beliefs.
The Declaration of Independence calls attention to the irregular and disjointed assembly of representatives, and asserts that we have the right to duly elect our leaders. Righteously, elections are held relatively often. If we promote this right, we bear the responsibility of accepting defeat- in fact or imminence. We cannot gerrymander and manipulate to remain in power- even if we firmly disagree with the opposing party.
Likewise, the Declaration states the ‘all men are created equal with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. If somebody wants to drop everything, move to Hollywood, and pursue an acting career, they are free to do so. If we accept this, we must recognise that what makes some people happy might be strongly displeasing to us. However, if it does not infringe with anybody else’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then we must accept it. Somebody who wants to drop everything, join the military, and transition gender must also be free to do so.
The USA is in a difficult position. The original passion of 240 years ago has faded. New and strong emotions and obligations are tearing at the relationship between its citizens. The vows, in our founding documents, are still there- but other interests are at play. Now, we are faced with that choice. We could let the desire to win, the desire to be right, the desire to avoid unpleasantness override our vows. Or we could actively fight to not be swept away. We could choose to make concessions, to do the dirty work, and pair rights with responsibilities.
If we want to hold onto our birthright, then each and every day, we must choose democracy.