imgresMost of us are descendants of people who have come to America looking for liberty.  Many endured great hardships to do so, leaving everything familiar behind, taking with them only the clothes on their backs, a few meager belongings and their hopes and dreams.

For Patrick Henry, liberty was “the greatest of all earthly blessings.” For H. G. Wells, it “is the very substance of life.”

What is so compelling?

The word liberty comes from the Latin word for free. Webster’s dictionary tell us it is: the state of being free, the power to do as one pleases, freedom from despotic control, and the power of choice.

Liberty, in other words, is freedom, and it embraces all of forms of that virtue that we hold dear.   Freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion and other forms of personal freedoms were gauged so essential to the vitality of our democracy that they were written into our constitution and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

But liberty, like our other core values, cannot exist independently and unrestrained. Our core values exist in dynamic tension, feeding into, enabling, and balancing each other. Without balance, for example, the pursuit of happiness degenerates into a free-for-all, a kingdom where the strong preside over the weak. Without balance, liberty becomes license.

As the distinguished Federal Judge Learned Hand observed, “Liberty is not the freedom to do as one likes.  That is the denial of liberty.  A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is in the possession of only a savage few.”

Liberty implies thought and choice. Choice implies responsibility.  Liberty provides the opportunity to fulfill our ambitions, but it must be balanced by equality and our respect for the equal rights of others.  In words that will be familiar to every first year law student, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln addressed this issue as only he could. “We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word, we do not all mean the same thing,” he said. “With some, the word ‘liberty’ may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the produce of his labor; while with others, the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the produce of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name – liberty.

“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon the definition of the word “liberty”; and precisely the same difference prevails today, among us human creatures.”

True liberty consists of the opportunity for a full development of all possibilities – intellectual, material, and moral – latent in man. Ultimately, it has a religious root, which is why, G. K. Chesterton said, “men find it so easy to die for and so difficult to define.

De Tocqueville said it this way:

“The American character is the result of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in frequent hostility, but which in America have been admirably incorporated and combined with one another…Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles and its triumphs – as the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the safeguard of morality, and morality as the best security of law and the surest pledge of the duration of freedom.”

Ultimately, it is not the existence of liberty but the way in which liberty is used that determines whether liberty itself survives. Whenever we take away the liberties of those whom we hate, we are opening the way to loss of liberty for those we love.  Like love, liberty is one of the things you cannot have unless you are willing to share it with others.

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Making America Great

imgresCharles Carroll was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, outliving Jefferson and Adams by 6 years. He was also the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration, and, perhaps, the man who had the most to lose by doing so.

Carroll was the wealthiest man in the colonies at the beginning of the Revolution with a fortune estimated at $2 million dollars – hundreds of millions of dollars in today’s terms. He could have stayed on the sidelines and lived comfortably, but he risked his fortune, as well as his life, for freedom.

Carroll had the satisfaction of living to see the fiftieth year of American independence. He died shortly thereafter, leaving us with these words:

“I do now here recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured in my country may be perpetuated to the remotest posterity and extend to the whole family of man!”

Our Founders promise and Carroll’s bequest have materialized into the greatest nation the world has ever seen. The principles they established have brought us from thirteen obscure colonies to the world’s only superpower. They have established new standards of life, liberty, and happiness. Free men and those yearning to be free still look to the United States as the light of the world and the best hope for the future of mankind.

At the same time, many here and abroad now believe we are failing to live up to our own ideals. A few years ago, the European Commission sponsored a survey to see “What the World Thinks of America.” Sixty-five percent of those polled throughout the world described America as arrogant; 33 percent said we were antagonistic. Only 23 percent of those surveyed thought our economic policies should be copied. An even smaller number – 18 percent – spoke favorably of our popular culture.

Less than 20 percent of all Americans have a passport.  Only a fraction of the world has visited our country.  Most of what we know of the rest of the world and what they know of us comes from the media.

With this understanding, the State Department convened a meeting shortly after September 11, 2001 to develop a strategy to address anti-Americanism.  One of the conveners of the meeting suggested the best way to address the apparent misconception of America was to broadcast old movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” to show those in doubt what we are really like.

Tim Love, former Vice Chairman of Omnicom, was among those present.  Surprised by this suggestion, he responded by asking what good that could possibly do.  In an age when every program we see is instantly available anywhere in the world, a public relations effort of this kind only invites an inevitable comparison between what we are, what we think we are, and what we would like to be.

President Eisenhower said, “Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first happen in the heart of America.”  It follows that whatever change is to come to pass in America – and in the world’s perception of America – must first happen in the hearts of its people.

Most people want to have what we have.  America and the world would be better served if we lived our lives so they want to be what we are.

Our greatest export has always been our values.  We have to be the change we want to see in the world.

Every little deed counts.  For all of our failings – and we must each admit we have some – there is redemption in the fact that no man can be faithful, honest, and true without the world being better for it.  Even the humblest among us can, by shear act of will, help to make America great and the world a better place.

At the birth of our nation, a citizen approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, “What kind of government have you given us?”

“A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

The Republic will endure as long as we continue to cherish the ideals of the men who created it.  From Bunker Hill to Berlin, the best of our blood have fought to defend democracy.  But that is not enough.  The battle for freedom is not reserved for the few or the brave.  The battle for democracy must be fought here – as well as there – day by day, with the knowledge that liberty won today may be lost tomorrow.

“There is a new America every morning when we wake,” Adlai Stevenson said, “and that new America is the sum of many small changes.”  Our task is to guide these changes and decide what kind of America we want it to be.

“Every year millions of Americans come to Washington to visit our national shrines – the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol,” former Secretary John Gardner said. “But the spirit of the nation does not reside in these physical structures.  It is in the minds of the citizens who come to look at the structures.  That is where a vital society begins; and, if it ends, that is where it will end.”

If we lose faith, if we stop believing, if we become complacent and content with where we are and what we have, if we stop caring and trying to make things better, if we waver in our commitment to equality, liberty, and justice, the monuments of our nation will become meaningless and the dream that is known as America will disappear.

You and people like you make our country great.  The spirit of America is strengthened with every act of individual achievement, every word spoken for freedom, every vote cast in an election, and every extension of liberty.  The soul of America is nourished with every act of courage, kindness, and compassion.

We the people.  The story of America is our story. Today and tomorrow, America will be whatever we are.

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The Heart of America

imgres-1The heart of America has never been more visible than it was on September 11, 2001.

Tim Love, then Vice President of Saatchi and Saatchi, was in his office that morning and watched the planes attack. As the towers started to come down, he called me to say we had to do something.

We quickly decided we would make a pin out of the Heart of America Foundation’s (HOA) logo with the intent of selling it to benefit the relief effort. Tim said he would seek the support of the AdCouncil and designed a campaign to “Fight Hate with Love.”

Another friend, Robert Brooks, formerly with Procter & Gamble, opened a door at Hallmark. Hallmark agreed to sell the pins to support the effort. With the campaign in progress, my wife and I went to New York to assess the situation and see what we could do to help.

For those who weren’t there, there is no way to adequately describe the reality of Ground Zero at that time. The sheer enormity of the destruction was staggering. The damage done in human terms was even harder to comprehend.

The recovery site covered l6 acres. You could smell it for blocks before you could see it.   Along the way, every storefront and fence seemed to have been converted into a billboard. Signs and banners, flags and letters of support for the rescue workers were everywhere.

A makeshift memorial had been created for the families of those who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center on the east side of the recovery site. For many at this time, this was the only place they had to go.

Hundreds of Teddy Bears were stacked along the wall of the public park that had come to be known as Winter Garden. Each Teddy bore the name of someone lost. Flowers and personal mementos had been placed on and around the stuffed animals. Photographs and poignant letters from loved ones were posted nearby.

As we walked the sacred ground, many tragic images were burned into our minds, but the image that will endure is the stuff that heroes are made of. It is the memory of men in uniform – rescue workers and medical technicians – methodically moving through the destruction sorting through mountains of debris.

It was as if the planes that struck New York, Washington and Pennsylvania opened a window to the soul of America. Heroes emerged from the shadows. They did what they were called to do – and what they were called to do was often nothing more than their jobs. It was the extraordinary ordinariness of their efforts that was most compelling.

They had no grand designs or elaborate plans. The scope of their effort was the length of their arms. Their long-term plan extended no further than carrying the nearest burden. Yet, in the process of simply doing what needed to be done, millions of pounds of concrete, metal, and glass, were moved, one piece at a time.

In the months that followed, seventy percent of all Americans made a contribution to the relief effort – a response unprecedented in world history.  More than 60 percent of all Americans made a financial contribution to the relief effort.  Many others volunteered time, gave blood, opened their homes, and contributed household items and necessary supplies.

When all was said and done, the isolated acts of a dozen men driven by hate were overwhelmed by thousands of acts of kindness and compassion.  It is often said, “We are at our best when things are the worst.”  That was certainly the case here.  It was our finest hour.

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The Land of Opportunity

imgresOne hundred years before the Mayflower, the French had already begun looking for fame and fortune in the New World, working the cod banks off Nova Scotia. The Spaniards, led by the Italian Christopher Columbus, were not far behind.

A full eight inches taller than the average Spaniard of his day with flowing red hair and exuberant ways, Columbus must have looked as odd as his notion of sailing west to deliver a letter to the Grand Khan of China. The voyage was thought to be impractical, dangerous, and expensive.

“Everyone to whom I spoke of this enterprise thought it a mere jest,” he said.

But the promise of El Dorado was enticing enough that Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand were finally persuaded to finance an exploratory expedition. On August 2, 1492, Columbus and his crew went on board for confession and set sail with the tide “for gospel and for gold.”

Columbus and his crew sailed through August and September across what was then called the Sea of Gloom without finding any of the islands they expected. As they entered October, his crew and the captains of the other two ships begged him to turn back.

On October 11, Columbus wrote in his ship’s log he “prayed mightily to the Lord.” The following day he sighted land, now known as San Salvador in the Bahamas.   From there, Columbus went on to explore Haiti and Cuba before heading back to tell what he had found, bringing with him samples of spice and gold.

His patrons were so impressed that Columbus was given a fleet of l7 ships for his second voyage. Rumors of gold leaked out and a desperate rush of would-be adventurers began to besiege him for space on his ships.

“Not a man,” Columbus said, “down to the very tailors does not beg to be allowed to become a discoverer.”

About a hundred years later, the British celebrated the return of Sir Francis Drake from an expedition that had taken him to Brazil, Chile, and Peru. Drake brought back so much plunder his flagship could barely list into port. His success fueled the vision of a New World of unbounded virgin land and untold riches.

As a result, the London Company, a commercial trader, financed a British expedition to America. Intent on settling to the north of the Spanish and the south of the French, they came up the Chesapeake Bay and entered the James River in what is modern day Virginia. With that, the longest and most determined gold rush in history began, but it would not find full expression until the Republic was formed and the power of the people unleashed.

“The discovery of America opened a thousand new paths to fortune, and led obscure adventurers to wealth and power,” de Tocqueville would say of that time. “In America, every one finds facilities unknown elsewhere for maintaining or increasing his fortune. The spirit of gain is always on the stretch.”

The pursuit of happiness is one of the inalienable rights upon which this country rests. In the words of James Adams, “The whole American Dream has been based on the chance to get ahead, for one’s self or one’s children.”

Opportunity comes from liberty and is made possible by equality. When fed by ambition and sustained by courage, the pursuit of happiness has limitless possibilities.

At the same time, we must recognize the happiness of some has always been purchased at the expense of others. It is a story as old and as shameful as our treatment of Native Americans and as recent as the current as the plague of corporate greed. There are always those who cannot see beyond their immediate personal interests without concern for the broader consequences of their actions.

Though they compel our attention, fill our courts, and challenge our sense of justice, these people are the exception and not the rule. Intuitively, most people know the single-minded pursuit of self-interest cannot be sustained in a democracy. It corrodes the foundation on which it rests.

America is the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases that frame our society and support that purpose still resonate today. They remind us of who we are, what we stand for, and what we will die for.

In the words of Lyndon B. Johnson, they are “a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in man’s possession; it cannot be found in his power, or his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others.”

To de Tocqueville’s aristocratic eyes, the spectacle of men and women liberated to make their own destiny must have seemed a bit unsettling.

“As they are always dissatisfied with the position which they occupy,” he wrote, “and are always free to leave it, they think of nothing but the means of changing their fortunes, or increasing it. To minds thus predisposed, every new method which leads by a shorter road to wealth, every machine which spares labor, every instrument which diminishes the cost of production, every discovery which facilitates pleasures or augments them, seems to be the grandest effort of the human intellect.”

The rich and powerful, like de Tocqueville, are satisfied with their lot and do not leave it. The promise of America is for the rest of us: we who dream of a better life. The inscription of the Statute of Liberty is the best evidence of this fact.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the inscription reads, “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The “golden door” Liberty refers to is the entrance to New York Harbor. The Statue of Liberty, a gift of friendship from the people of France commemorating the 100th anniversary of American independence, stands there welcoming all who come to that harbor.

The sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi, said the Statue was intended to be “an immense and impressive symbol of human liberty.” It was certainly that for the millions of immigrants, who came to America during the last two centuries seeking freedom and the opportunity to make their dreams come true.

Four years after the Statue of Liberty was erected, nearby Ellis Island was selected as the site of a much needed “immigration depot” at a cost of $75,000. On the first day of operation, 2,251 people were inspected on Ellis Island. In the next six years, the number of hopeful new Americans increased to more than a million. Today, 60 percent of all Americans are descended from someone who came through Ellis Island.

In the hundred years between 1824 and 1924, 34 million immigrants from around the world landed on American soil. The first wave of immigrants were primarily Northern Europeans fleeing the starvation, oppression, and the social upheaval brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

The second wave of immigrants streamed out of Southern and Eastern Europe. Most sought greater economic opportunities, but many were also the victims of religious persecution. It was said that the faces of a thousand nations were on board when the great steamships of the early 20th century sailed into New York Harbor.

Like Columbus and the pilgrims and pioneers before them, each passenger on those ships sought the promise of America. The old world lay behind them. Gone were the monarchies and kings, the systems of caste and peasantry, of famine and numbing poverty. Ahead was a new world, the promise of a new life, and the opportunity to carve their own destiny.

People vote with their feet. For more than 500 years, people from all over the world have made their way to America. We have become, in the words of Israel Zangwill, “God’s Crucible,” the great melting pot where all the races are converging and reforming.

“This is the only country in the world which experiences this constant and repeated rebirth,” Woodrow Wilson said. “Other countries depend upon the multiplication of their own native people. This country is constantly drinking strength out of new sources by the voluntary association with it of great bodies of strong men and forward-looking women out of other lands. And so by the gift of the free will of independent people it is being constantly renewed from generation to generation by the same process by which it was originally created. It is as if humanity had determined to see to it that this great nation, founded for the benefit of humanity, should not lack for the allegiance of the people of the world.”

America is not a matter of birthplace, color or creed, or line of descent. America is a question of principle, of purpose, of character, and hope.

“To every man his chance, to every man, regardless of his birth,” Thomas Wolfe wrote, summing up the promise of America, “his shining golden opportunity. To every man the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can contribute to make him.”

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imgresWhat do you do when one of your heroes tells you they are dying?

Brianne didn’t put it that way, of course.  She simply called to say she was going into hospice; but she knew we had enough experience with hospice to know what that means – She has a life-threatening illness and has decided not to fight it.

That didn’t sound like Brianne.

Brianne has been fighting the odds with every breath, every moment of her life.  She was born with thirteen broken bones and diagnosed with a rare bone disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI).  They said she only had a few hours to live and called the hospital priest to give her the last rites.

But somehow, Brianne made it through the night.  She kept on fighting through seemingly endless days and nights, defying the odds, until they said she was strong enough for her parents to take her home.  She was carried out of the hospital on a pillow, popsicle sticks taped to her limbs as makeshift splints.  Her family was afraid to touch her for fear of breaking a bone.

Once she was home, her parents went looking for help and found a group of physicians starting a research protocol for children with OI.  Brianne was so fragile she could break a bone by sneezing, but they encouraged her to learn to walk and challenged her to grow. And grow she did, graduating from American University and getting her masters degree from Marquette University.

But it has never been easy.

For 36 years, Brianne has faced one challenge after another.  She has had at least one surgery for every year of her life and has had – in her words – more broken bones than Evil Knievel.  But each time, whatever the challenge, she has taken it on with courage and humor.

In the process, Brianne has recalibrated my sense of what a hero looks like.  Thanks to her I have learned it has more to do with the size of your heart than the size of your body; more to do with the strength of your spirit than the strength of your muscles.  It’s not what you have that matters but what you do with what you have.  What you give to the world is more important than what you take; how you affect others, how you make them feel, is more significant and has a more of lasting impact than any material gift you can give them.

So what now?  What do you do when the doctors say there is nothing more you can do? Where do you go when they say there is no place for you to go?  Brianne was saying she is prepared to go home.

At times like these – as I can testify from a couple of close calls – you take stock of where you are and see life as seamless.  It stretches forward into the future and back beyond the boundaries of time.  There is no beginning.  There is no end.

You realize what Einstein meant when he said matter can neither be created nor destroyed.   Something cannot become nothing.  Something simply becomes something else.  The same atoms that dance in us dance in everything else in the universe. When we die, nothing ends.  The best part of our selves just learns a new dance.

What remains are footprints in time and fingerprints on the lives of those we have touched.  As long as we are remembered, we are loved.  As long as we are loved, we are indispensable and immortal.

In my heart and head, Brianne will always be with me.  I suspect there are thousands more who can say the same.

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