In light of the terrorist attacks, many Americans have reflected on their country, gained a renewed appreciation for their freedoms, and asked how they might help restore some of its essential institutions and attitudes that have decayed in the winter of the past century. Other Americans have looked inside themselves, gained a renewed appreciation for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, and asked themselves how they might live more fulfilling and meaningful lives.
Renewal of country and self go hand in hand. Without the appropriate values and moral base, the country will decline, while the right values will ensure a safe and sound society.
So what, exactly, does personal renewal involve? First, it involves recognizing that your individual life is your supreme value, that it is too precious to waste or sacrifice to the unsound opinions or whims of others. Second, renewal requires you to reflect, as calmly and honestly and rationally as you can, on your own life, to take stock of yourself.
Third, renewal requires you to ensure that your values and actions serve your life and your well-being. What are your priorities? Do the things you desire and spend time on truly give you the deepest, long-term satisfaction? Are you living up to your full potential?
Perhaps your values, virtues, and actions do serve you well. In that case, reflection gives you a renewed appreciation for the joys and achievements of your life in the same way that an artist receives renewed joy by reflecting on the beauty of one of his own paintings.
Perhaps you’ll identify weaknesses in your life. Perhaps you are distracted by short-term, less-important pleasures or even self-destructive indulgences that keep you from actions and goals that are in your long-term interest. Perhaps you’ve formed bad habits; you’ve grown lazy or unfocused.
The fourth aspect of renewal involves recognizing that you control your own life, that you are a being of self-made soul, that it is in your power to correct your errors. Renewal requires you to act, to change your path, to recondition your habits, to re-focus your priorities.
We can also ask what kind of society such rational, goal-directed, productive individuals who are committed to their own happiness would wish to live in. They would require and welcome the freedom to run their own lives. They would abhor the idea of surrendering their fate to others, to be treated like a child or like a slave. Such individuals would demand that their freedom be respected and in turn would respect the freedom of others. Such individuals would have no desire to run the lives of others.
Such individuals would wish to live in a society with other people who share their values. Such individuals would wish a society in which they would be free to exchange material goods and ideas with others, to share challenges and experiences, to rejoice in the achievement of others, and to have their own achievements rewarded. Such individuals would wish a society that recognizes that we are each endowed “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” Such individuals would wish the United States as conceived by its Founders in the Declaration of Independence!
This is where personal and national renewal come together. Too many Americans acquiesced as their money and freedom were taken by those who get a perverse pleasure from running the lives of others. Thus a key to renewing this country is renewing in ourselves the values that befit free men and women, the values of rationality, productivity, and self-esteem that comes from achievement.
After the carnage of the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln spoke of a “new birth of freedom.” After the carnage of the terrorist attacks, as the flowers come forth at this Easter time to renew the beauty of the world, we too should seek a rebirth of freedom through renewal of ourselves.