An equal chance. It was what Abraham Lincoln firmly believed about the Declaration of Independence. It “gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.” The Declaration of Independence delivered the purpose and, eventually, the constitution. Equal chance through democracy.
Within this simple concept comes great responsibility.
Democracy carries a personal responsibility. Just as quickly as the words are read, they evaporate. Fingers are pointed at others, and they speak loudly – “The responsibility lies over there, not with me.”
Even louder, we may hear the echo of Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
Equal chance carries equal responsibility.
If everyone is offered an equal chance, then there is a duty to embrace the actions of democracy, opening up equal opportunity for others as well as delivering the best government possible to preserve our right, our purpose.
Equal chance carries valuable meaning.
There are great principles in providing equal chance. Principles of freedom are at the core. In freedom, meaning grows. Freedom offers discovery, pursuit, betterment, and much more. In freedom, responsibility joins. Freedom requires attention. It needs care and feeding, and this responsibility belongs to us, the voters and citizens.
In democracy, it is our responsibility to make it meaningful.
Untouched democracy and freedom will fade in the sun of inactivity and inattention. There is great personal meaning in democracy, and it is under our care to advance it, protect it, and embrace it.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela
There are five ways to make democracy more meaningful.
At a minimum, there are five ways we need to pick up the flag of responsibility to make democracy meaningful now and keep it so in the future.
One – Contribute to make your community better.
At every level, there is community and some essence of organization. Neighborhoods coordinate gatherings. Cities facilitate logistics. States deliver services. Nations protect. There is much more than this, which is the point. There is much to do and it requires us to jump in, pitch in, and dig in. Citizen groups and boards are options as are participating in public forums.
To get the most out of our sense of community, we need to get involved.
Two – Consider our horizon.
We cannot be too selfish. We need to look to the future. What do we want our communities, our government, and our mission to look like 100 years from now? When people look back 100 years, what do we want to be remembered for? It is not just equal chance for today. It is about equal chance for the future.
To preserve, we need think ahead and work for future generations.
Three – Do the simple things.
Meaning can come in simple efforts. Let’s be honest. Voting doesn’t take much effort. Yet, in the last election, just slightly more than 57% of all eligible citizens voted in the United States. Other countries get it with over 80% and 90% voting in elections. If we do not vote, then we cannot complain. However, it’s worse. If we do not vote, then we are letting a small group dictate what is done for and to the larger group.
To participate, we need to simply vote. It is our role in democracy.
Four – Do the hard things.
No one said democracy is easy. It takes effort. From military to fire and police services to running for office, all take effort and risk. We need to understand the necessity of each along with the responsibility.
Standing up for others and our beliefs takes as much courage as being open to listening and understanding a new perspective. Compromise is difficult yet necessary at times to get unstuck.
Democracy takes all generations. For younger generations, history needs to be learned and understood in order to gain the context of why our participation is necessary. It can also include internships to gain a closer look and prepare ourselves to grab the baton forward. Youth isn’t an excuse to shed responsibility, just as seniority isn’t a reason to squander it.
Planning and managing in a fiscally responsible way is vital and challenging. Tough trade-offs require a steeliness of purpose. It requires a dutiful spirit of responsibility and hard choices and work.
To serve, we need to engage across generations for future generations.
Five – Exhibit gratitude and civility.
In all that we do, we need to show an attitude of kindness. For our military, civil servants, and political leaders, we need to show gratitude. In all our interactions, we need to embrace civility and empathy. Democracy is too important to waste away in petty arguments or gotcha statements.
To engage, we must connect, understand, and work in a spirit of thankfulness and respect.
Democracy is centered in meaning.
For us who are in a democracy, great meaning is possible. It is our responsibility. Theodore Roosevelt said it well:
“The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first and love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”
Replace the word “America” with “Democracy” and we have our warning and responsibility. We cannot be soft on living. Duty is a call for every citizen. After all, equal chance carries equal responsibility.
We must grasp our role to further the meaning of democracy. Equal chance. It is the purpose to convert our responsibilities into actions. It is what good citizens do. It is what good leaders do.
Image: National Archives.