Author and philosopher Ayn Rand was heckled during a speech with the question, "Why should we care what a foreigner thinks?” Rand, a Russian immigrant who came to America to escape the horrors of Communism, responded with her usual passion and bite: "I chose to be an American. What did you ever do, except for having been born?”
I often reflect on the implications of that exchange, especially on days like today. In our modern time where most people think that The Fourth of July is America's Birthday (it's actually the day we adopted the Declaration of Independence), I often reflect on how aloof we are in disregarding the special gift that freedom is to a society. In our age of smartphones, Google, and reality TV, we are too often distracted from ruminating on liberties we take for granted.
Ours, oddly enough, is an age of rampant "irrational" Patriotism. Men stand outside, barefoot, shirtless, and soused, and wail that "America's Number One!" The next day they're going on and on about blacks and Mexicans ruining the country. Women write about "Supporting the Troops" on Facebook while complaining that her taxes are too high and we should cut military spending. Children are taught that The American Flag should be waved as a symbol of exclusivity, not acceptance.
These are not spur of the moment prejudices, as they have been boiling for many years. We have become so disillusioned with the world that our displays of love for our country are knee-jerk and sporadic. Fourth of July, instead of celebrating the document that freed us from servitude, becomes a contest of who can buy the biggest firework stash and drink the most beer. They dash off a quick message on Twitter along the lines of "America ROCKS!" and then proceed to provide another reason for their livers to squeal like a goat being castrated.
I think of Rand's quote because, for the majority of people in this country, we didn't choose to live here. We were born into the land of opportunity because our ancestors made that decision for us. We didn't choose to be American, we simply are. It takes a different sort of person to be born in an area of poverty, corrupt governments, and senseless genocide, and deciding to come to a place where their dreams might become reality. They don't come to be moguls, millionaires, or murderers, like some flaxen-skinned politicians would like you to believe. They choose to become American for the sole fact that this is a land where the individual can achieve.
America is a very cloistered place. We complain about the very liberties that make us unique, while never experiencing what a true nightmare living in some of these other countries is. If we could, for one day, step into the wastelands of The Sudan or stand in line for bread in the Russian years of firm Communism, we would embrace our ideals more.
Being American allows us the ability to choose. Do you know how important choice is? The freedom to follow your own will is what makes our existence truly unique. We may have senseless laws governing us and have politicians that care more about designing garbage trucks than focusing on real issues, but these indignities are small meat considered to fearing that you may be forced out of your house during the night and executed. Dictatorships tell people what they must do and, if they step anywhere outside the prescribed lines, you better expect to spend the rest of your life behind bars.
The Fourth of July was the day our forefathers chose to become American. It was a long arduous road, but they persevered and established this nation that we now hold dear. They, incidentally, did not make that decision for us. It is up to us to choose to become American, not just today, but every day. Being American is not a right, it's a privilege. To live in a country like this takes a firm mind, a secure philosophy, and a strong work ethic. If you're weak-willed and lazy, you'll end up falling onto the list of those too focused on keeping up with the joneses and not on finding out who they are and what they believe.
On this day, I ask you to observe what Liberty has afforded you. Don't add up your cash or list your possessions - look at the obstacles you've overcome and the ranging storms you've braved. Look at your life and match up your ideals to your decisions. If they match, you know you've become a true Patriot.
If your ideals are firm, your vision is clear, and your heart is passionate, you will be able to rise above any danger and stand on the summit of The Rockies, shouting at the top of your lungs: "I am an American."