OPINION – Why is doing the right thing such a test of personal character? It’s because, more often than not, doing the right thing means having to stand against the crowd.
No one wants to be unpopular. No one relishes the sadistic pleasure others get out of questioning their motives or trying to smear their character.
Yet the most pivotal moments in human history tend to be rooted in one person, or a very small minority of people standing for what is right. By contrast, the biggest sorrows in human history were enabled by enough people failing to do the right thing.
One reason people fail to stand for what’s right is that they lose sight of basic truths that do not change. Such truths are an effective benchmark by which to measure the rightness or wrongness of a given proposition.
For instance, when the American Colonies chose to withdraw their consent from the government of King George II, Thomas Jefferson wrote of self-evident truths that supported their decision.
In the Declaration of Independence, we learn that those truths included all men being created equal – that their Creator endowed them with unalienable rights – and that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.
These truths provided the foundational stance by which the colonists declared their independence, fought for it, and won it from England. They provided the legal underpinning for the U.S. Constitution that called the federal government into existence and gave it carefully limited powers
The Founders were disparaged and accused of illegal, treasonous activity by those who claimed the right to rule them. But they were perfectly justified to secure self-rule rather than continue to obey King George.
Their commitment to those self-evident truths required treating them as something more than mere slogans. It required a willingness to make a stand, at great personal risk and cost, for what they felt was right.
That’s something that few Americans are capable of understanding in our day. Where the founders were more concerned with the forms, or principles, that were at stake, we’re much more focused on issues.
We’ve allowed ourselves to become hyper-focused on technicalities while ignoring the basic truths involved. It is a common trait of human nature when people have a bit of learning; they suppose themselves to be wise.
Jefferson explained this tendency in a letter to his friend Peter Carr in 1787:
State a moral case to a plowman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.
This is not a condemnation of education; it is the recognition that the words “knowledge” and “wisdom” don’t mean quite the same thing.
Credentialism has taught us from our childhood to defer to experts to explain the world to us. But Claire Wolfe warns against reflexive submissiveness to experts:
Never presume anyone is right — or has more rights than you do — just because he or she is standing in front of a classroom, wearing a uniform, talking legalese, shouting from a pulpit, appearing in the media, or carrying a government badge.
We have a personal duty to examine and vet truth for ourselves. That means we must be capable of studying and reasoning beyond what we are told. This type of understanding does not require credentials. It requires a willingness to study until we understand. That’s a price that few are willing to pay.
A huge question before us today, is whether Jefferson’s self-evident truths upon which our system of government was founded are still valid. How we answer this question determines whether government, at any level, serves us or rules us.
There are ‘experts’ who think that time has rendered Jefferson’s observations obsolete. Joseph Sobran explains why this is wishful thinking:
Today it’s fashionable to condescend to Jefferson by saying his philosophy is a bit old-fashioned — plausible in an agrarian society, maybe, but hopelessly out of date now. Jefferson would reply that self-evident truths are never “old”: A proposition is either true or false. If his truths were true in 1776, they were always true, and will always remain true.
If our government is no longer bound by these truths, then we all have some difficult decisions to make regarding standing for what’s right.
If legitimate government is supposed to exist, by our consent, for the purpose of protecting our inalienable rights, then the government we have is no longer the one described in the Constitution.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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