"...unbelief is a terrible thing. And so is the hurt we cause others unknowingly." -- The Color Purple
Today, we honor our veterans, both living and deceased, for their bravery, their courage, their monumental sacrifice to our country. Leaders everywhere will speak about the cause they fought for, but few will speak about the everyday values they represent and can inspire us to live. Like the Purple Heart medal that is bestowed upon veterans who have been injured or killed in defense of our country, and like the names of our two organizations -- Purple America and Purple Heart Homes -- those values are neither red nor blue, they are purple.
Why purple? Because purple is a blend of red and blue. When our all-volunteer military men and women enlist to serve our nation, they don't sign up to serve a red state or a blue state, or one political faction but not another, they serve America.
Intuitively, they know that to be American is a way of life built around a set of loosely-defined but widely shared principles or values.
Instinctively, they know it is our common ground that makes the nation called the United States the country we know as America, and they believe it is important enough to leave their families thousands of miles behind to risk life and limb to defend it. What is the common ground that, today, some politicians would have us believe no longer exists?
Four years ago, with America fragmented between red states and blue states, Purple America interviewed almost 1,000 Americans on the streets of eight communities, asking just that: "What are the values that connect us as Americans?" and "What do Americans stand for?"
Many of our politicians and financial influencers may have forgotten, but every day Americans remembered. Whether in the "conservative" south or the "liberal" north, their answers were similar: Equality, Faith, Family, Freedom, Love and Respect, Self-Expression, Doing the Right Thing, Community, Giving Back, the Good Life, Opportunity and Success. These are the ideals that, despite party affiliations or geographic differences, everyday Americans hold dear even today. Especially today.
While Purple America exists to re-connect America with its shared values, Purple Heart Homes enacts them every day in extraordinary ways. It is one thing to talk about values, another to walk the walk, and quite another to continue to walk that walk after one has lost a limb or suffered a traumatic brain injury. But that is the case with Purple Heart Homes.
Launched by two friends, both disabled veterans, to assist the other veterans who have covered our backs and been tragically wounded while fighting for our nation, every one of the 12 values that Americans admire are evident in the activities of this organization.
Purple Heart Homes builds customized, barrier-free homes for disabled vets who need assistance re-entering American society. When they do, the outpouring of appreciation that's shown by Americans tells us that American values, at the grassroots level, are strong. Clearly, Americans want to pay back those who have paid it forward.
On this milestone Veterans' Day, as we proceed toward a potentially divisive presidential election, perhaps we can resolve that America must not win the battle but lose the war: we must not lose our ability to have a civil conversation based on our common ground. We have enough fallout from war -- death; disability; broken lives. Former President Jimmy Carter once said that while war is sometimes a necessary evil, it is evil, nonetheless. So is continuing a war of words at home.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the color purple, historically has symbolized richness and sacredness. And what could be more precious, more sacred than the values that are the fabric of our nation and its only real safety net? When we, knowingly or unknowingly, dishonor the common ground that binds us together as a nation, we disregard the sacrifice made by our veterans.
As we honor them, let's also honor the values that are the collective DNA we share as Americans and for which they fought. Let's discuss, debate and refine the ideas and solutions that can stem from these values. And above all, let's remember that the enemy is not us.
Stuart Muszynski: Founder and CEO, PurpleAmerica.us
Dale Beatty: Co-founder, Purple Heart Homes