There is no doubt that we live in increasingly troubled times. The news is an endless stream of negativity:  crime, homelessness, drug abuse, border issues, gender politics, inflation, interest rates, and international tensions. Many of us, on both sides of the aisle, are legitimately concerned for the future of the nation.

We live in a world of connected isolation where social interaction is more likely dictated to Siri than across a coffee shop table. Current events are encapsulated in sensationalized headlines and flashy imagery that often provides little context or analytical depth. Openly biased news outlets from each side of the political spectrum compete for clicks and eyeballs through hyperbole and selective reporting of the issues that trigger their chosen audience segment.  The mindless chattering of the political class equally dramatizes the trivial and the meaningful. We have cancelled some of our greatest heroes because they failed to live up to a moral standard of perfection that none of us could ourselves achieve, and we have denigrated our history and heritage because we have focused only on its most unsightly blemishes.

The internet, which was imagined to be the connective tissue that binds us together, has instead become our prison walls. The pandemic didn’t cause this, but it most certainly accelerated an ongoing process as we became increasingly cocooned in our daily routines. Most of our basic needs can be easily satisfied with a few clicks and an anonymous ring of the doorbell. Our ability to find like-minded virtual communities has left us unwilling to even hear opposing viewpoints.

It is easy to become pessimistic about our future when we are isolated in self-made cocoons which are constantly being shelled with negativity.

I am not an American by birth. I am, proudly, an American by choice.  A choice made possible by a gracious country that welcomed my family with open arms.

We have for some years now lived a semi-nomadic life, shuttling between southern California and north Texas. In our travels, we have seen what I call the truck-stop effect many times. At a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, we are all reduced to satisfying our immediate needs. Fuel, food, a restroom break, and a few minutes to stretch and recharge. Race, gender, life-stage, and economic status cease to matter if they ever did. Under such conditions, we tend to lower our shields and we find ourselves engaging in conversation at the gas pump or the checkout line. Over the course of a few years, I have learned that most media chatter has little relevance at a ground truth level. I have instead seen grit, determination, patriotism, faith, and perhaps surprisingly, optimism about our ability to collectively overcome our current challenges.

You might not have occasion to be at a Love’s in some small Sonoran Desert town, but you do need to gas up your car, stock up for your July 4th barbeque, and maybe even buy a tacky red, white, and blue shirt to wear.

Do your own experiment. Turn off the negativity and tune out the chatter. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you at the town parade or at the park watching fireworks. Host your neighbors for a backyard barbeque. A simple “Have a great 4th of July” to the person behind you at the grocery store checkout is a great start. At the gas station, say hello to the person at the next pump and wish them safe travels. Some will react with suspicion or maybe even just ignore you, but many are weary of the cocoon and hungry for community and will eagerly engage.

I am certain that the butterflies will eventually emerge from their cocoons and once again take flight.

America is the result of an optimistic notion that personal liberty allows the human spirit to flourish, innovate, and achieve. It requires that we respect our differences, celebrate our successes, and help pick up the pieces of the inevitable failures. That can only happen when we recognize our shared values and history.

The constitution begins with ‘we the people’ because the survival of the liberty which we cherish depends upon our shared sense of belonging. Let us therefore work towards restoring our sense of belonging to what is perhaps the greatest and certainly most successful experiment in human liberty. May you all celebrate this Independence Day with a declaration of your own.