A New Independence
What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry -- an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.
-- Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States
Barack Obama spoke of "a new declaration of independence" while beginning the trip to his inauguration. In his call for us to rise above instinctively formed prejudice, Obama appeals, as President Abraham Lincoln once did in his innaugural address, to "our better angels."
Obama acknowledges that "our easy instincts" include "prejudice and bigotry." CompassionRise previously discussed that people are not inherently racist, but science does describe that we depend on prejudices in our daily lives. Some prejudice is rooted in the social norms with which we are raised, some is rooted in our own experience, but neither are valid ways of judging individuals.
The better angels to which Obama appeals are the better parts of our nature, with which we all are born. Obama is asserting that we have and need to better exercise free will, and that our mindful choices are ethically superior to prejudice and ideology. These angels are not supernatural, winged and robed spirits floating over us on the breath of a god. Our better angels are of us and they act by our command. Our better angels are our will, our potential, and our compassion.
Obama speaks to us not only as citizens, but as people: "What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives." He is providing not only political leadership, such as a new government policy; he is also providing ethical leadership for a more civil society.
Obama calls for our independence "from ideology and small thinking." He sees a nation and communities still divided -- by race, religion, political perspective, and more. Obama calls on all people to open their minds. To face the challenges ahead, we must think not as Hispanics, Gays, Christians, Republicans, Asians, Jews, and so on.
At times we must not even think as Americans. Barack Obama went to Berlin in the summer of 2008, during the heat of a presidential campaign in which his loyalty to America was questioned. There he spoke to 200,000 people, boldly calling himself "A fellow citizen of the world" in a speech entitled "A World That Stands as One." This internationalizing of the American Presidency is not uniquely Obama's nor uniquely Democratic. It has become customary in recent decades for able, former U.S. Presidents to serve the interests of the world -- Carter, the first Bush, Clinton, and similarly Gore.
Obama separates our need for open minds from our duties as citizens and our needs as a nation, stressing that freedom from ideology is needed by and for all of us. To realize our potential we must think as people, and act together as a people.