Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Reflections on the Flag, our Heritage, and the Role of Empathy



If you ask someone what the American flag represents, they'll most likely say something like, "liberty and justice for all." They probably would not say something like, "My heritage." ... because that term does not mean much by itself. What is meaningful are the ideals and values of the heritage. And make no mistake about it, we have a complicated heritage. I say this in part, because the values and ideals of that heritage have evolved. (This includes the "Christian heritage," by the way. Anyone who does not think that our understanding of the values and morality of the scriptures has evolved, has not read the Bible closely or has totally forgotten what was in it.) 

I believe that empathy is at the heart of morality. In fact, that is the essence of the Golden Rule. I am glad that our society has grown more empathetic over the centuries. As a country, we eventually decided it was wrong to own people; it was wrong to allow children to work in coal mines for 12 hours a day; it was wrong to deny voting rights to women; and it was wrong to deny an equal education to African Americans. As our empathy increases, our sense of justice becomes more refined. 

I have ancestors who owned slaves. I'm not proud of that part of my heritage. I have ancestors who died fighting for the confederacy. They may have been nice men, but they were on the wrong side of that war. My parents taught me the value of love, kindness, and compassion. I'm very proud of that heritage. My wife's grandfather was a professor at the University of Alabama and was instrumental in recruiting the first African American students to the Engineering Department. I'm stoked about that heritage. We all have a checkered past. I suspect that we all have a heritage that is worthy of honor AND redemption.

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