This July 4th, Americans celebrate their Independence Day, the day we formally declared our separation from England in 1776. We remember the enormous sacrifices required to turn that declaration into true freedom and to maintain that freedom over the last 242 years: countless conflicts, loss of life and treasure, separation from family and friends, misery and hardship. None of us living today would count those sacrifices in vain, and the political, economic, and social freedoms we enjoy owe a tremendous debt to the far-sighted founders and those who strived to turn their dreams into reality.

We should remind ourselves that it was not only the sacrifices of the founding fathers, or the men and women in uniform, or our numerous famed heroes from Washington and Lincoln to Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, but the sacrifices of our own family, friends, educators, co-workers and indeed ourselves that ensured and continue to ensure our freedoms. Freedom is a team sport: no one is free alone, and we each have an obligation not only to maintain and grow our own freedom, but to help others do the same.

Without parents who sacrificed their time, money, and personal resources to educate and nurture us, to create independent adults, we would not be free.

Without educators who spent long nights preparing lesson plans, grading papers, and counseling students, we would not be free.

Without friends who push us to try harder, who come to our aid when we need them, who provide a ready ear and a willing hand, we would not be free.

Without being consciously aware each and every day of our freedoms, and making the effort to maintain and grow those freedoms through self-control, discipline, hard work, and vision, we would not be free.

Without helping others to break through their own barriers and achieve greater freedom in their own lives, we would not be free.

This Independence Day, enjoy your barbeque and fireworks with friends and family, and add something more: find ways to honor the sacrifice of all those who contribute to your personal freedom today by making someone else’s life a little more free, by teaching them how to become more free, by being an example of freedom for them. The Dalai Lama says that the way to ensure our own happiness is to seek the happiness of others; freedom is the same.

So, today, do the following:

          Be interested in other people by asking questions and listening intently to their answers. Encourage open dialogue, questioning, and respectful discourse. Teach others by example that their opinions matter, and yours do, too, and that our shared freedom lies in the free exchange of words and ideas, not slings and arrows.

          Be frugal. Don’t spend money or time freely, but with intent and purpose. Ask yourself if this is the best use of your time and money, and help others by your example to do the same. Freedom doesn’t mean profligacy, it means the freedom to choose how we spend our time and money, and the wisdom to husband those resources for the most impactful use.

          Be helpful, be inspiring, be heroic. If someone needs a hand, lend it cheerfully. Show what it means to be independent, strong, and gracious. Use your own power and success not to belittle or demean others, but to elevate them and help them see that they, too, can achieve power and success in their own lives. Sow freedom by showing others how to learn and grow.

Today, above all days, help others to achieve freedom by sharing your own freedom and demonstrating by your example what it means to be free. Even if you nudge only one person a little closer to greater personal freedom, you will have truly celebrated Independence Day in a profound and meaningful way.  

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