I believe our forefathers shared some uniquely selfless ideals in founding the U.S.A. No one has expressed their sentiments better than Thomas Jefferson when he wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence:
“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.”
Our ancestors who fought for these principles would smile to see our nationwide Fourth of July celebration of the freedom to live our lives in relative comfort, enjoying the liberties of democracy. We’re proud of our independence and we value its abundance, even if our share is modest.
Modest is a mild word in describing the standards of living some of us endure. A disturbing number of women are living on our own, without the support of a family or a stable job. In fact, many of us struggle to support our children, without sufficient income, childcare, or healthcare. According to current statistics, more than half of all children live below the poverty line in families headed by women; two thirds of minimum wage earners are women; and one in seven women lives below the poverty line. In fact, for millions of women, our share of the nation’s wealth is meager at best.
But we maintain our dignity. We can be proud of the courage we display in rising to meet enormous challenges on a daily basis. For the most part we’re stoic and hold it all together with hope for a better future, if not for us, for our children. Our resilience, our tenacity, and our faith seem to have no bounds. We keep our heads held high, in part because we can’t afford to do otherwise, since our neglect would cause our fragile world to fall apart.
And there’s a secret to our strength: we’ve learned firsthand that gratitude is the most empowering—and most humane—attitude we can take. Just as Maya Angelou wrote: “I know why the caged bird sings,” we whistle in the dark to deny our fear of the night. We may dream of freedom from our earthly burdens, but we understand they endow us with our humanity. And while most of us would like more financial independence, we’re looking ahead to years, decades, or generations of servitude and dependence on others to live at subsistence level.
Thankfully, here in the U.S. there’s some reason to hope: We have nothing to be ashamed of if we’re working class, which includes all ranks of people who serve others—including statesmen, physicians, educators, scientists—here in our free society. Thomas Jefferson was indeed our role model in this regard. All of us who are working to make the world a little better place, or even just to survive another day, are doing our part in a country of interdependence, or reliance on one another. There’s honor in this. It gives our lives purpose and meaning.
Motivational author Steve Atchison said, “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” Those of us who do what we can to prevail and embrace our connection with others are contributing to a vast web of oneness. Our efforts at reaching out give us reason for pride tempered with humility. A sense of belonging emanates from the fact that we’re doing our best to stand on our own two feet. While we’re grateful we can trust in the decency of humanity in order to get by, we limit our requests for help to the times when we have needs of vital concern.
We can dream of more financial independence. In the meantime, we stand the best chance at the joy of self-respect if we practice appreciation for the amazing labors of love among human beings. We are giving and taking in fulfillment of our capacity to care for one another. And as we expand our compassion to a global level, the potential for shared abundance continues to grow.
This Independence Day, let’s acknowledge our dependence on humanity with gratitude and respect. We’ll be happier for it.
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk™