As we approach the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, a day that called on all Americans to dig deep in their hearts and come together as one nation, it would do well for "we the people" to take an annual checkup on the state of our more perfect union.
When our Founding Fathers penned the words, "in order to form a more perfect union," they laid a framework for democracy that would depend on an active citizenry. We had overthrown the injustice of a monarchy, and set the course for a nation that would be the city on the hill, the beacon for the tired and poor and the hope of liberty for a world buried under injustice. These were our ideals.
Today, America the beautiful is fast becoming America the bankrupt. To insure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense, we have transformed the land of liberty and opportunity into a gated community bound by fear to keep the others out, and turned public space and the public square into battlefields for personal interests. Now, without the funds to maintain the safety net, we are ripping holes in promoting the general welfare and decimating education. Where is the wisdom in that?
As citizens, we must continually ask: Have we achieved the principles we fought for and continue to fight for in the name of liberty and justice for all? Have we ensured domestic tranquility and upheld everyone's inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Or was that only meant for those who were present then? Did our Founding Fathers envision a nation so diverse? A nation made up of many religions, cultures and ethnicities? A nation now divided along more ideological lines than the faults that continually tear at the very earth we live on. Security can not and does not mean imprisoning ourselves behind walls of fear. What happened to vigilance for a more perfect union? Rather than just survival of our union, many are asking, can we as a human race survive?
There is no doubt that we can. But in order to survive we must find a way forward -- embracing democracy, educating for democracy, nurturing engaged, compassionate citizens of a pluralistic, civil society.
Under a true democracy, what rules is an ethos -- a visible standard of values -- that each citizen must feel empowered by and then automatically buy into. A society without an ethos, without values or morals, to back up its democratic principles, can not sustain itself. It will cave in to the greed and self-interest of those who want power and a new ruling class will emerge. Then, we the people will become a ceremonial democracy.
There was a time when our union was undergirded by faith -- faith in a God that sanctified our union. Out of that faith grew the ethos and the determination to pursue the national good -- a sense of right and wrong -- a moral high ground that points to justice for all, not just for those who can afford it. But using the authority of "God" to justify unjust acts and to aggrandize personal power has lead to today's state, where the very word "God" has become a subject of debate, rather than a transcendent authority for good.
To form a more perfect union we must search for the wisdom to move forward. We must find a shared narrative and reweave the fabric of our society which has so badly frayed.
One simple approach is to give voice to our stories, both sacred and secular. Stories have always held the power to change the world. Through our stories we can create a narrative that values everyone's voice and emphasizes shared values.
Disasters, both natural and man-made, offer opportunities to rebuild. But must we always return to the same state that lead us to disaster in the first place? The old order is changing, but what will the new world order look like? Do we clamp down with fear to drain every ounce out of the system before it implodes? Or do we open ourselves to the potential, to the possibility of peace?
Let us search our souls and our history to inspire us to reach beyond what has become a reality few are happy with.
We have an enormous opportunity to allow the light within each of us, inspired by our common values and wisdom of the ages, to lay a path to peace. We are at a Copernican moment when we must appreciate that the sun of our future does not revolve around the human ego, but on rising above it.
So in our quest for a more perfect union, let us recognize our responsibility and move forward with child-like wonder and hope with the expectation of something new and different. And let this new story be firmly rooted in the narratives we cherish, so we once again stand on firm ground and wave our banner high for all to see. Is it too much to sacrifice for the common good, to be open to an America and a world at peace?
Ralph Singh is Chair of the Wisdom Thinkers Network. He and friends will convene a roundtable of Wisdom Thinkers at the 92nd Street Y, on Sept. 8 linked to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, moderated by NYU law professor Arthur R. Miller. He has authored and recorded, "Stories to Light Our Way," a Parents' Choice award winner with wisdom stories from the world's sacred and secular traditions to create a sense of shared values and educate more compassionate citizens.