In January 1941, as Europe and Asia were engulfed in war, a war that within the year would draw in the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his famous “4 Freedoms” declaration: every human, he said, deserves freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
In that spirit, these are the 4 Freedoms I wish for you on Independence Day.
Freedom from Hate
Hatred and its close cousin contempt corrode the soul. Tragically, in recent years hatred and contempt have become normalized. Too many politicians are known more for who they hate than for what they stand for. Hatred against groups of people because of their race or ethnicity, citizenship status, gender identity, and of course whether their political opinions are red or blue define much of public discourse today.
Our nation has been through such periods of polarizing hatred in the past. It has never ended well.
On this July 4th I wish for you freedom from the toxic swamp of hatred and contempt. Whatever religious belief or philosophy guides you, I’m certain it does not include a commandment that says:
“Thou shalt hate other people because of who they are and treat them with contempt because of who you are.”
As a nation, and as people, we are at our best when we are guided by what Abraham Lincoln called “our better angels.” And our better angels are not driven by hatred and contempt.
Even before the trauma of the pandemic and its aftermath ours was being called “the age of anxiety.” Anxiety is like a threatening storm cloud on the horizon. It’s the feeling that another shoe is about to drop but you don’t know what that shoe is or when it will fall. It’s emotionally exhausting and spiritually depleting and creates helplessness and emotional paralysis. When in the thrall of anxiety you experience debilitating cognitive distortion at three levels:
Memory is deformed. You vividly remember past rejection and failure in a way that makes them seem self-defining, while past accomplishments and successes are trivialized.
Perception is distorted. The current dangers that cause you fear are blown out of proportion, while the strengths and resources you have to face those perceived threats feel inadequate to defend you against them.
Future Vision is warped. Someone who is overwhelmed by anxiety is more likely to have nightmares of imminent catastrophe than dreams of eventual accomplishment.
On this July 4th I wish for you the courage, the equanimity, and the objectivity to see anxiety for what it so often really is: a self-imposed impediment to authenticity, creativity, and joy.
Freedom from Trivia
The world is waging a war on your most precious resource – your attention. And the world is winning. No one on their deathbed ever wishes they’d watched more television, spent more time on social media, checked email more often, or played more video games. The time we waste on trivia is time that cannot be devoted to building real relationships with real people or accomplishing goals that are important to us.
In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr describes how addictive your screens have become. In the book’s second edition he explains how the smart phone has intensified that addiction. And as Johann Hari wrote in Stolen Focus, “It’s not your fault you can’t focus. It’s by design.” Silicon Valley geeks camped out in Las Vegas casinos to learn how to make their apps as addictive to you as slot machines are to compulsive gamblers.
In today’s world it would be unrealistic for me to wish for you total liberation from trivia, but you can start by reclaiming one hour each day. One hour to turn off the tech and instead connect with real people and do your own work.
Freedom from Gloom
The past several years have given good reason for gloom: the pandemic and ensuing loss and loneliness; the politics of rage and hate; media dominated by tragi-tainment; the recent epidemic of what my Stanford business school professor, Jeff Pfeffer, calls “copycat layoffs” creating widespread insecurity; and an increasingly dangerous global security picture.
It’s difficult to be hopeful and optimistic in this environment. But hope and optimism are essential catalysts to all dreaming and doing. Without hope we fall into despair; without optimism we fall into helplessness.
Today my wish for you is that you look through the gloom to see the sunrises and rainbows on the other side.