Recently I listened to a wonderful interview with Jacob Needleman, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at San Francisco State University on The Inner Work of Democracy. He asked the question, “Without the inner meaning of freedom and liberty, what is freedom for?”. I became more and more intrigued with the interconnectedness of our freedom as a nation and our own inner freedom.
Needleman proposes that the great purpose of America is to provide a place where people can search to become fully human themselves. At first blush, this sounds like a rather self-centered view but he goes on to say that the paradox of true individuality is that the more you are in touch with what all human beings have in common, the more you are uniquely what you, yourself, are.
As he did his research for his book on “The Inward Work of Democracy”, he didn’t expect to find the richness of thought and character that resided in our Founding Fathers. He saw with new eyes the intense commitment that they had for holding freedom and obligation together. That every hard won right has a corresponding responsibility. When we look at what human beings owe to each other in terms of how we relate to one another’s ideas, views and opinions, one has to wonder if what we have now is what they envisioned.
Can we come to a communal understanding of listening to the other? If we look at our right to free speech, how often do we consider our duty to allow others to speak? Does this mean just letting the other ‘talk’ or is it more of an obligation to listening to the other? What would it be like if we approached interactions with each other with this idea that ‘I don’t need to agree with you, but I have to let your thought into my mind in order to have a real democratic exchange between us?’
In our personal or professional lives, most of us find it difficult to commit to setting aside time just to ‘think’ with others. We all have had experiences of that moment when we start thinking together – how everyone’s eyes light up and the mood of excitement enters the room. In organizations, with the focus on revenue generating work, we often neglect deliberately constructing opportunities for co-workers to come together in this way. Perhaps what we need more of are ‘thinking groups’ and fewer ‘action groups’. The dividends would likely be surprising.
On this day, when we reflect on topics such as ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – it is a perfect time to consider what happiness means to you (and I hope you see it as being what you are supposed to be as a human) and why it is essential to all of us that you pursue it!