Last week I introduced the concept of the Patriotic Sequence. We examined Katharine Lee Bates’ poetic observation that our country’s pilgrims sent a powerful thrum across the plains with the beat of freedom. As citizens, we too get to pilgrim new Providential paths. These actions test our resolve in the furnace of affliction like those faced by pioneers. They push us to muster our courage and determination. Our responses to challenges, and the will to take courageous, transcendent actions as servant leaders beckon us to become heroes to our families and our communities.
Being a patriot is the outcome of the American Dream as suggested in Bates’ fourth verse. It is earned one act of nobility at a time on the battlefield of life. As we progress, we reach the point where we have proven virtue and equity in real patriotic honor—which is ours to defend and keep. And to pass on.
This is the patriotic pattern. It is the story of America. It is still being created by each new generation. In our day, what will liberate and build America more than anything else? The answer is real, and right in front of us: Education! In my opinion, nothing else comes close.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.” This is true of children and youth as well as adults. There are seasons of life that allow you and me to repeatedly discover this patriotic pattern. Development of our unique gifts, our “special excellence” or arête, as the Greeks named it, requires seasons of growth (just like winter, spring, summer and fall). As we progress, we start becoming and cultivating the harvest of who we were meant to be. I believe some never leave a certain phase or season simply because they have accomplished what they were meant to do. Others may stop progressing because they lack learning, ambition, or even opportunity. The patriotic pattern is a continuum, allowing all to make progress at their own pace.
In all of this, as a nation and in each individual life, the creation of the patriot comes as we use our virtues to serve others. Development of talents informed by virtue will provide each of us with experiences in all of these phases at multiple times in our lives. If you have not experienced the pattern, I would ask: Have you left “the cave?”
Many people never quite exit their comfort zone, as described by Plato. Yet, as humans, we are by nature creators and explorers. All of us were meant to progress, to improve, to grow, to live an odyssey. To the extent that we develop each virtue to the full measure of our potential, we add it to our personal symphony like a new poem, song or musical instrument and discover new sounds, better harmony and a synthesis of metaphorical and musical masterpieces. This is education. This is learning. It starts with children and youth, but it is a lifetime journey. We never entirely complete our education, not if we understand what education really means.
Still, the pattern can guide us. We are pilgrims, moving past old and even bad things in search of a better way. We are pioneers, establishing and building new and improved communities, institutions, families and nations. We also have times in our lives that require us to be heroes—to face challenges and turn them into victory, or if we fail at times, to learn from defeat and use the lessons to do better next time. Again, these are the great lessons of true education.
We are engaged, active citizens who live the laws and uphold the nation through our self-control, our good and noble choices; this allows our nation to be self-governed and free, rather than ruled from above.
And we are all dedicated discoverers—because all journeys begin with an idea that produces a yearning and desire to improve our station. We see this throughout our history among the overwhelming number of immigrants—from the Pilgrims to current immigrants. If you were to ask those coming today why they are willing to make such a great change, at such high risk, the central themes would be economic opportunity, safety and prosperity. To be successful, most of the new pilgrims must learn English, gain an education, achieve a level of economic independence and become an asset to their community. It has been this way for centuries, and millions have successfully accomplished it—largely because of their own hard work combined with the many freedoms and opportunities they found waiting for them here in the American system. Together we are also, in this pattern of progress, part of a great brotherhood, one that stretches “from sea to shining sea,” promoting freedom and servant leadership to all people.