It’s the Fourth of July, and time to celebrate our Independence from England with parades and barbecues, fireworks and flags.

It’s a time to honor our founders, and it should be a time to recommit ourselves to patriotism.

Patriotism is not just waving flags. It’s also being a responsible, informed and reasonable citizen who understandS the importance of civic duty.

For our founders, patriotism meant risking lives and livelihoods to wrest freedom from a distant monarchy that cared mostly for what it could wring from its colonies.

Some worked in words, creating the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, or distributing pamphlets to inform and sway colonists. Others, farmers, clerks and average, everyday men, headed into battle against a trained and well-equipped army.

Their wives, mothers and sisters kept the farms and businesses running, the families fed and cared for, and even helped supply the troops while the men waged war.

The patriots’ courage is something to behold with awe and gratefulness.

Today, we are not often called upon to prove patriotism with that sort of courage. What we are called upon to do is as important to the cause of freedom: We must be active, informed citizens.

Today, it is very easy to get information. It’s a lot harder to pick it apart and separate fact from fiction, truth from spin. It’s much easier to climb on a familiar bandwagon than it is to challenge our own perceptions.

Yet that’s what we all need to do today. We have to be willing to listen to the “other” side, to all sides, and try to understand where they are coming from. We may not end up agreeing, but we may come away with a better understanding of why some people think differently.

Part of the beauty and strength of our country came from the founders thinking differently, and not accepting the status quo. What they created was a country that has evolved over the years, that has had its dark moments and its high points. The key is it has evolved while maintaining a dedication to the founders’ principles, and has become a place the world envies.

So let’s enjoy the barbecues and parades, but let’s also make ourselves a promise to be better citizens, to take a more active interest in our local governments, and to educate ourselves as voters so that we can make the best choices for this wonderful country we’ve been given.

This editorial first ran in the Sentinel on July 4, 2015. 

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