Tag Archives: Thomas Jefferson

Look Closely and You’ll See that America Values Philosophy and Idealism

About a month ago, I talked about the best kept secret to traveling – tours. Since that post, I’ve been back into DC a few times to visit the monuments and the other sites that there are to see. There was something that struck me as particularly poignant — the US values philosophy/ideals without even knowing it.

You wouldn’t know it to watch TV, go the movies, or listen to the radio, but deeply embedded within the US is a value of philosophy and ideals. What makes me say this? Well, in visiting the monuments, you can’t help but think this. All of these important people in American history and what’s the unifying theme (besides America) between them? They had an ideal or a philosophy and they remained steadfast in pursuing that philosophy. FDR, MLK, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, George Mason…

Speaking of George Mason: even though I just finished an MBA from George Mason University, there were some things I didn’t know about the man that I found particularly interesting. For instance, did you know that he was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson? How about that he was the smartest man that George Washington knew? Or, how about that he wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights? And that Thomas Jefferson borrowed heavily from the Virginia Declaration of Rights in drafting the Declaration of Independence?

I wonder if there will be a time (again?) when these American values will be more apparent. That is, when they will be more overt.

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After one of these trips into DC to see the monuments, I found myself sitting on a bench outside one of the stores in the Mosaic District. I was looking up at all the store fronts and thinking to myself how distracting consumerism can be. I had just spent the day steeped in American idealism — learning and reading about some of the important figures in American history and now I found myself dropped into consumerism. It [consumerism] seemed so small after FDR, MLK, and Jefferson. It seemed almost insignificant. The most appropriate word I can think of for my thoughts that day: distracting.

It really seemed like everything was distracting. That is, everything but the philosophy/idealism I had spent time with that day. The stores and consumerism — it was distracting away from the philosophy and idealism. To be fair, maybe it’s not reasonable to always be thinking about idealism and philosophy. Maybe it’s fair to sometimes indulge. I should also clarify that I’m not judging consumerism, no.

I was just noticing that after spending a day with idealism, consumerism seemed… distracting.

Could Washington, DC, Use a Little More Selfless Service?

During a trip I took earlier this year, I happened to pick up a USAToday. I don’t often read the USAToday, but that has more to do with the way that I aggregate articles. As I was reading, I came across an op-ed about Tulsi Gabbard, the newest member of the House of Representatives from Hawai’i. In the context of what had just happened with the drama of the fiscal cliff, there were some important points that I want to highlight:

The problem in Washington today is that legislators almost always act based on how they think their actions will help or hurt their political careers. An antidote to our epidemic of partisanship can be found in the “great tradition of conciliation” in which American statesmen from Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy put the good of the country above the interests of self, party, or region. This tradition could be revived, if only we would heed the words of George Washington, who warned against the “mischiefs of the spirit of party,” or of Patrick Henry, who exclaimed, “I am not a Virginian but an American.”

It could also be revived by an infusion of the Gita’s principle of selfless service. If Democrats and Republicans could learn to cast their votes without first (and foremost) calculating the costs and benefits to their personal careers, Capitol Hill would start to look a less like a battlefield between rival clans and more like the arena of compromise and conciliation our Founders intended it to be.

Selfless service.

How often do we hear that phrase used in the context of politics?

The irony of this op-ed about selfless service is that a day later, I heard this same point echoed on conservative talk radio. Dennis Praeger and his call-in guests were opining that politicians weren’t concerned about the big picture — they were focused on what was going to get them elected and keep them elected. How interesting, eh? While I don’t know that the author of the op-ed is liberal, the fact that he’s writing about diversity in Congress (and about a Democratic House Member, in particular) might lead one to believe that he might be. There’s also the fact that he wrote a rather pointed post for CNN around election day last year. So, it’s safe to assume that back in January of this year, we had people on both sides of the ideological aisle talking about how important it is for politicians in America to start thinking about what’s good for the country rather than their district, party, or reelection chances.

While I’m totally on-board with a bigger picture perspective, I would wonder how to reconcile not keeping the interests of my district in mind when voting. Isn’t that how people get elected in the first place? I’m going to represent you in Washington… I’m going to represent what’s important for our town when I get to DC… How could one turn one’s back on one’s district?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but it’s a conversation worth having.