Words & Ideas

I’m a West Wing geek. Even though the series has been off the air since 2006, I’ve been watching it in reruns, then on DVDs, and now I binge-watch it on Netflix. For seven years it chronicled the lives of a fictional set of characters who work in the West Wing of the White House. Through President Jed Bartlett and his staff, Aaron Sorkin told stories that helped me to learn something of the major political issues of the time and explored some of the deeper philosophical, moral and ethical issues of political thought and action. In the episode I saw late last night, President Bartlett asks a new staffer to make a promise that he asks of everyone who works for him:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why? … [the staffer answers] It’s the only thing that ever has.

All day long on the 4th, I thought about the meaning of Independence Day. What it meant in its inception; what it might mean to others and what it means to me personally. I wonder how many of us think, really think, about this holiday. I rarely hear it called Independence Day. We say, “Happy 4th of July!” and go on picnics, watch or march in community parades, and then watch fireworks shows.

We’re celebrating the birth of a nation, so it seems logical that we honor the holiday with birthday-like parties and the fact that public celebrations have a militaristic feel is also logical. But before our current celebrations, before the Revolutionary War, were the words.

The Declaration of Independence is a magnificent document setting down some basic ideals of equality and freedom. Years ago, when I was in the 7th grade, the teacher asked me to begin reading the Declaration with the idea that he’d call on others in the class and we’d take turns. But something happened when I started reading … the words struck a deep chord in me and I began to read with great feeling as these concepts and ideas filled my mind and heart and the teacher just let me keep reading.

I took time this morning to read it again in its entirety, probably for the first time since that first time as a young adolescent. Now I read it with less hope and idealism than I did then. Now my feelings have been changed by the experiences of life and a different depth of knowledge about the world.

Still, I’m an idealist and this quote (attributed to Harlan Ellison, science fiction author) is one of my most favorite touchstones: “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Read the document for yourself. Is the United States of America all that it could be? Do we truly live out the ideals that the founding fathers declared to be the basis of this nation?

So I ask you to consider promising to stay hopeful in the ability of words and ideas and a small group of thoughtful committed people to change the world. It’s our intention here to keep putting words and ideas out into the air for your consideration, to invite you into conversation. We hope you’ll join us.