Help the person nearest you. If you want to honor our nation’s birth this Independence Day, start there.

In fact, write that person’s name down, and then do it again on July 5. See how long you can honestly answer the question, “Who did I help today?” Let’s kick it up a notch. “Who did I help today where my self-interest wasn’t immediately served?”

Our nation was founded on the premise of a virtuous people. “The general Government,” wrote George Washington, “can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an Oligarchy, an Aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form; so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the People.”

James Madison echoed the sentiment in a speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788. “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical (imaginary) idea,” he said.

In truth, it’s hard to avoid the myriad warnings from our founders about the necessity of individual and public virtue to maintaining liberty.

“Virtue” is one of those words so filled with meaning that it’s hard to nail it down. It’s a kind of moral excellence. We know virtue when we see it, and we feel its absence in profound, devastating ways.

I know virtue isn’t dead. It’s when my son shares his snack with a random friend on the playground who doesn’t have one. It’s parents who take on the expense and time required to adopt a child simply because they believe every kid should have a family. It’s the soldier who takes his last breath on foreign soil in the fight to safeguard the blessings of liberty for people he’ll never meet.

That’s why we need to help each other.

I know of no better way to inspire virtue than simply taking care of the people whose lives happen to intersect with ours. We don’t need to solve all the big problems in society; we just need to be willing to address the small ones we see around us.

It might be as simple as helping someone change a tire on the side of the road, taking some cold drinks to construction workers across the street, or even sharing tomatoes from your garden with your neighbors.

For those who have more, do more. The financial success that you’ve been able to achieve and enjoy affords a powerful tool for advancing a virtuous society. You can help provide education for those who simply need a chance to thrive. You can create the jobs that empower communities. You can advance the arts in ways that tell the stories of liberty we need to hear generation after generation.

Each of us has an ability to shape a more virtuous society no matter how large or small the contribution seems.

Stop looking for our president or Congress to realign our stars and make us a better people. Madison noted the branches of our government were constructed in such a manner that “we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.” Where we lack virtue or dignity in our political class, it’s a direct reflection on our manners and morals as a nation.

We are liberty’s guardians every bit as much as our founding fathers. Ours is not a revolution of arms and nations but of character and virtuous resolve. If we hope to maintain our republic for much longer, we simply cannot afford to be the well-intentioned Pharisees who pass by on the other side of the road. The plight of our fellow Americans must be ours even where we disagree on the correct response to remedy it.

On this Fourth of July, show your patriotism by opening your eyes to the people nearest you. Know them, help them, and be willing to make the kinds of personal sacrifices we extol in our nation’s heroes. Our children will see it and do the same. Year after year, this is how we pass along our legacy of liberty and honor the birth of the greatest experiment in freedom the world has ever known.

Image by M1randje


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