Ignorantly free

“Most American kids are ignorant of their history as a free people. They know very little of what’s in the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment, and they know less of what it took to secure these liberties and rights. And if they leave school with such ignorance, they are hardly likely, as adults, to fight to preserve their own liberties—let alone anyone else’s. The young have not forgotten what Americans have done. They have simply never known.” —Nat Hentoff

I grew up in Latin America, with brief stints in the US. Each summer, we would fly to the US to visit family. During Fourth of July activities, I never understood why it was necessary to place my hand over my heart during the national anthem. I didn’t mind doing it, but I never took the time to ask why we did it. I knew the behavior was perceived as an act of patriotism, but I didn’t know what patriotism was. I was simply trying to fit in and hand-over-heart-during-national-anthem was a prerequisite to getting on with the show. 

Last year changed things for me. Suddenly everyone I knew was a political expert or activist. I had friends and family across the entire political spectrum. The country that I visited as a child and had always had its stuff together, was suddenly on fire. Sometimes literally. Debates regarding the constitution, rights, liberties were easy to come by. I was lost. I had heard these terms before, but never really taken the time to understand them. I soon realized I wasn’t the only ignorant fool. In the absence of Google and the firehose of news being spewed at us, most folks wouldn’t have an opinion, let alone a cogent analysis, to share. Then one day, I read the following statement by Ezra Taft Benson:

“A citizen of this republic cannot do his duty and be an idle spectator.”

That’s exactly what I was, an idle spectator. Having lived abroad most of my life, I knew I had opportunities that others could only hope for. I was annoyed by my ignorance and the fact that I had enjoyed so many of the blessings of this country and couldn’t even explain what made it great. This drove me to do the logical thing: talk to friends that had a clue, follow folks on Twitter that had a clue, and buy tons of used books about dead folks that had a clue. (Thank you, Thriftbooks.)

Yes, 2020 was a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” year, but something invaluable came from its messiness. For the first time in my life, I realized the need to become more than a mere acquaintance with America, a consumer (leech?) of its many gifts. I felt the need to become a citizen that performs his duty because he understands his duty. I was reminded that nothing in life is free and ignorance is never bliss. When it comes to America, Murray Dolfman had it right when he said, “We will lose our freedoms if we don’t know what they are.” So, here’s to being a less ignorant and more active citizen of this republic. 🍻🇺🇸