Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Viva the differences — what July 4th really means

by John Halverson

June 30, 2011

“Can you write a column about July 4th?” Editor Lisa Seiser said. “I don’t want to write the same thing I wrote last year ... and the year before.”

Actually, she wasn’t giving herself enough credit. There were differences. Last year, for instance, the editorial ran horizontally. The year before it ran vertically. The headlines were different. And one had a picture with it; the other one didn’t.

It’s true though that they were both similar in that she wrote about the Declaration of Independence and the remarkable freedoms it bestowed on us.

Lisa also explained that maybe my column would have a slightly different slant. Our styles are different and some people think Lisa leans a certain way politically and that I lean the opposite way.

Maybe so.

But by the standards of political differences throughout the world our differences are no larger than the differences between her two columns.

Neither one of us believes in dictatorship or absolute freedom. Neither of us thinks some people should have fewer freedoms simply because of the color of their skin, or that one class of people should make all the decisions.

We disagree — respectfully. And that’s difficult to do these days. Political discussions are as volatile now as they were in the Vietnam era. A friend of mine recently bemoaned the fact that he and his two buddies recently stopped talking about politics because they didn’t want to jeopardize their friendships. As the saying goes, there are a lot safer subjects to talk about than politics and religion — but the bigger point is that we still have the right to talk about them.

We can say we’re atheists or that we don’t believe in the Holocaust or that we follow the Buddha or even Hitler. In many countries uttering those beliefs would get you in a lot more trouble than damaging a friendship.

Recently, I had lunch with two friends of different political persuasions. As the conversation got a little heated, we decided to declare a truce and talk about other things.

“Let’s see if we can avoid talking about politics for an hour,” I said.

Four minutes later we were at it again.

We all laughed at our lack of discipline. But it wasn’t a sarcastic laugh or a rueful laugh or a demeaning laugh — it was the type of laugh shared between friends.

So, as we approach another Fourth of July, let’s not forget the real reason for the celebration — our freedom. Among our other freedoms we ought to be celebrating is our freedom to disagree. It’s a freedom we all share by living here — which, for most of us, is a lucky accident we take for granted.

Lisa had one other request when she asked me to write this column.

“You have to fill 19 inches,” Lisa said. “If you can’t fill it out you can always throw in some quotes.”

Just to be contrary, I’m ignoring her dictum. Instead of adding a quote or two I’ll recall one of my favorite historical facts and one of the most remarkable coincidences in the history of any country.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both signed the Declaration of Independence and, thereafter, agreed on little else. Eventually, their animosity thawed and they shared letters until their deaths. The amazing coincidence I’m referring to is the fact that they died on the same day in 1826. Even more remarkably, that day was July 4, 1826. That just happened to be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence — the event we’re celebrating this weekend.

“Thomas Jefferson survives,” were the last words Adams spoke. They sound as though he had just lost a competition.

Two of our founding fathers competing until the end — utilizing the freedoms they helped create.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.