Happy July 4th! Independence Day is my favorite holiday.
On this vacation we celebrate something that many of us complain about for the rest of the year: our democratic institutions.
As a first generation American I love the freedom that this country represents. 239 years ago, The United States was the first nation to be founded with a formal statement that asserted the people’s right to choose their own government.
That’s a pretty cool fact.
The Declaration of Independence was a bold statement of ideals by profoundly practical men. It’s signficance rolls down through the ages, and continues to be an inspiration to oppressed people around the world.
The words were chosen carefully. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These most famous lines from Declaration give me chills.
As a radio guy, I applaud NPR’s Morning Edition for its annual tradition of having hosts, contributors and commentators read the Declaration aloud.
From the beginning – “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” – until the end – “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” – the sound of those profound words, written at a time of great danger, never fails to impress.
Despite a steady decline in trust in national institutions in recent years, “questioning the aims and efforts of government is a foundation of American citizenship. It’s how the nation was born,” writes Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at U.C.L.A. in The New York Times. “The colonists didn’t trust King George III, and they carefully laid out their reasons for breaking away from his rule in the Declaration of Independence.”
But still we celebrate the 4th with fireworks, parades and barbecues. For one day each year it’s time to put aside our complaints about the President, Congress, law enforcement and our system of justice. We are lucky to be Americans.
At a time of doubt, division and even disgust with government, this country is still a beacon of hope for tens of millions of immigrants and many others who wish they could live here.
Although I was born in the USA, my parents were British and moved me back to England as a child. After going to school there, I chose to leave my family and return. I am glad that I did.
So grab a burger, pour a cold one, and celebrate the Fourth with pride and gratitude for America and the best of its principles.
These people are listening very closely to what’s going on around them.
They have brought all of themselves to this moment. So did I.
Listening carefully to the musical audio sculpture by Janet Cardiff , “The Forty Part Motet“, now being presented at The Cloisters in New York, got me thinking about how we listen.
What extraordinary things could be accomplished by Congress and the White House if folks simply listened to each other, and went beyond the echo chamber of their own narrow structures of belief?
What if the interviewers on Sunday morning TV, or heaven forbid, highly opinionated talk show hosts, really listened to what they were being told, and challenged their guests and callers in a way that proved that they were learning something from the experience?Wouldn’t our media landscape sound a whole lot better?
There’s a really good piece on this for journalists called The Power of Listening. “To be a good interviewer you must learn to listen — both to others and to yourself,” writes The Poynter Institute’s Chip Scanlan.
“A lot of times we beat ourselves,” says Pat Stith, a former investigative reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer. “We don’t listen. We don’t ask simple, direct, follow-up questions. We just talk, and we talk, and we talk.”
How right he is. How often have you heard a radio or TV interviewer move onto the next question on the list without asking a good follow-up question?
Yet when the microphone is put into the hands of amateurs the results can be miraculous. Storycorps proved that.
“Listening Is An Act of Love” is the title of a wonderful collection of everyday stories from one-on-one interviews that were recorded inStoryCorps kiosks set-up around the country over the past decade. 50,000 interviews have been collected so far.
Now these people were really listening to one another.
My first encounter with StoryCorps was when a good friend and neighbor, Louisa Stephens, asked me to go down to the booth at Grand Central Station. It was one of about a hundred 50 minute Storycorps interviews Stephens has done at Storycorps with friends and family members.
Having someone sit down and listen carefully to you for that amount of time is deeply flattering. The experience can be transformative, with powerful results. (Business and political leaders, take note).
Which brings me back to Janet Cardiff at The Cloisters. If you can, go there and wander among the 40 speakers that are arranged in an oval in a reconstructed 12th century Spanish chapel. Each mounted speaker has the voice of an individual choir member who is performing a 16th century composition by the English composer, Thomas Tallis.
Along with many others who have been there I found the experience to be moving. It was another simple reminder of the power of listening.
photos by Richard Davies
- Recommend Exhibition: Janet Cardiff in Met-The Cloisters (changliugraduateseminar2013.wordpress.com)