I’ve come to learn that freedom has a price. It demands our participation.
Back in my twenties, I taught fifth grade — where the social studies curriculum focuses on American history. So, I’m familiar with the general story of how our nation came to be.
To be honest, I was never very captivated by it all. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the way it was taught, or maybe other things had my attention.
I admit to taking for granted the rather enlightened structure of our nation and what it affords me … mostly acting from a feeling of entitlement towards my freedoms.
However, walking on the constitutional grounds in Philadelphia for the first time a few years ago caused a shift in me. I found myself experiencing a sense of wonder and urgency in my body. I felt a quickening in my heart and a sense of lengthening in my spine.
It felt like I was being poised to help make something happen. But I had no idea what.
Today I have more of a sense of what that experience was foreshadowing or preparing me for.
It was opening me to consciously claim my civic identity and responsibility. It was like an invitation, asking me to include in my ongoing personal development my role in the greater whole of humanity.
The American constitution was and still is a landmark document in the history of democracy — truly revolutionary for its day. As I ponder this I’ve been revisiting the data in those fifth grade text books alongside relevant writings by modern scholars. In light of more current events, reflections on the making of the United States of America and the questionable security of our freedoms is a hot topic.
Consider this …
The constitution was not written by one person, nor was it written in a day. It was crafted from the bottom up, integrating and considering the thirteen constitutions that had already been ratified in the initial thirteen states.
It was the people who informed the state constitutions, not the leaders.
So when it came time to pen the national constitution, the issues were already well considered. And still, they were heavily debated in thoughtful, impassioned, and heated conversations.
This worked out mostly well for constructing the governing arms of our nation, but engaging in such a rigorous process demands a willingness and an ability to converse, debate, argue, and compromise — skills that appear to be sorely lacking in citizens today, both on the left and the right.
When it comes to how the constitution may not be serving the needs of the citizens or our complex world today, there are those who say we should redo the constitution from scratch. Others would prefer to revamp the process of how to pass amendments — make it easier. But one constitutional scholar disagrees.
[Akhil Reed Amar ](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhil_Amar) reminds us of the strength of the constitution as it is. He is wary of changing anything other than getting people involved in the amendment process. After all, the constitution was written by the people and for the people. Get the people involved!
Amar says unambiguously that the problem today is not with the constitution. It is with the people. He pleads for us to learn to talk to one another, to learn history, to listen, and think critically.
When we feel like we already know how to do these things, we might look again.
After all …
We all have areas of growth we would be wise to wander into and wonder about.
I especially appreciate Professor Amar’s perspective because …
I sometimes dream of a 21st century constitutional convention where we as a nation revisit the document with fresh eyes — not so that we can change it, but so that we can live into it more fully in the context of these times.
I imagine a fabulous convening both virtually and in-person spanning many months, integrating information and perspectives from all domains and fields, incorporating the voices of humans of all ages, ethnicities, and spiritual beliefs. I imagine some of the greatest facilitators in the world coming forward to help us coordinate our conversing, our discovery, and collective learning.
However, the alternative is likely a civil war, which some would argue we are already engaged in — our weapons being mostly words, media, and the internet … though guns are more prevalent in the public than ever.
When I remember that day in Philly I can feel the echo of its invitation rise in me. My straightening spine and quickening heart feel poised to engage in whatever learning is needed for me to show up for the sake of our democracy. I suspect we each have our own unique contribution or way of participating. I just wish that we all took it a bit more seriously.