We break from our routine to be thankful to those who sacrificed years of their lives, and in some cases their health, in service to our country. I hope each of us takes the time to thank someone who served. But as we do, I hope we take a moment to think beyond the person and consider what it is about service to our country that we admire.
The pledge of allegiance isn’t actually allegiance to a flag-a piece of cloth arranged in a particular way-it is allegiance to a set of ideas we share. In the same way, it isn’t just their legal status as a “veteran” that we honor, but the values that their example represents.
Through their service, veterans teach us lessons that are instructive to all of us if we allow them to be. Lessons like:
- Do what needs to be done, even if it’s not fun. A lot of veterans didn’t want to serve. But they didn’t lie or run away to Canada. Our freedoms would never have been won and will never be defended by people primarily interested in being comfortable. We honor veterans because they understand the importance of doing the right thing even when it’s not fun.
- Consider how your actions will affect the next two centuries, not the next two days. America today suffers from an inability to think about the long-term consequences of our actions. We create budgets based on our upcoming election rather than the best interest of the next generation. We make decisions about our marriages based on how happy we feel at the moment rather than how our children will be impacted. We honor veterans because they risked their own future so that ours would be better.
- Believe in something bigger than you. In our private moments, most of us know ourselves well enough to understand that we aren’t that impressive. If we live our lives for the goal of being respected, having success, and making enough money to retire, we’ll never be satisfied. We honor veterans because they demonstrate that giving yourself to something bigger than you is not only satisfying but it changes the world for the better.
- Rights have corresponding responsibilities. Everybody today wants to talk about their rights. We think we have rights to free speech, a living wage job, retirement, personal security, privacy, marriage, divorce, children, health care, etc.., etc…, etc… We are, however, less enthusiastic when we discuss our responsibilities. We honor veterans because through their service they fulfilled the responsibilities that give us the luxury to argue about our rights.
As we honor veterans today, allow the lessons of their example to inspire each of us in whatever “battle” we are engaged in.
Happy Veterans Day.