Trivia Tuesday: Ratification Day is January 14

a little help from our friends

I am sure this date was on some boring history timeline in a dry history book from my school days, but the only history I remember from this time of year are Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays in February. When I was looking for an interesting bit of trivia for this month, I came across Ratification Day and wanted to share it with you.

The End and the Beginning

Thursday, January 14, is the anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris (1783). This was the day in 1784 the Continental Congress ratified the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. In essence, January 14, 1784, represents the true beginning of the United States. Notably, Great Britain made major concessions which made possible the westward expansion of the new nation.

Interestingly, the terms of the Treaty of Paris and separate peace treaties were extended to countries that had supported the American cause during the war: France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic. Although we like to think we are a great nation all by ourselves, that has never been the case. Without the support of nations beyond our borders, we could not have secured the supplies that made fighting the British possible.

Image caption: Benjamin West, American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Agreement with Great Britain, 1783-1784, London, England. (oil on canvas, unfinished sketch), Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, gift of Henry Francis du Pont. From left to right: John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin. The British commissioners refused to pose, and the picture was never finished. [More Info]

What is Greatness?

As I have watched our nation’s response to the pandemic and the election, it has been startling to see just how self-centered and tunnel-visioned so many of us have become. It’s not about you, individually. In a truly great nation, it’s about all of us, collectively. The United States is great not because we are an isolated entity which has mythically risen without the aid of friends. This nation (and each of us) is made great by working with others to make the world and each other better. No self-made person or nation has ever existed. As the Beatles famously sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.

Our nation is made great by its enormous diversity in ethnicities, beliefs, geographical landscapes, and resources. From art to industry to education, it has been and continues to be this diversity that makes the United States possible.

Image caption: When the sun comes shining, then I was strolling, With the wheat fields waving, the dust clouds rolling, The voice come a-chanting, and the fog was lifting. This land was made for you and me. [Video]

Once we allow ourselves to succumb to a self-centered and tunnel-visioned worldview, chaos emerges. Us versus Them thinking won’t make us great. It will destroy the nation.

The only way to create a beautiful world that works for every person, is to set aside the selfish, partisan, “my way or the highway” mode of thinking. If the budding nation had refused help from the French or the Spanish or the Dutch, they would not have succeeded. The British would have quickly cut off their supplies.

Embracing Diversity

I love people-watching in a large airport with people flying in and out from all over the world. It’s exciting to see all the different modes of dress and hear all the different languages. Differences make us stronger! No one person or group has all the right ideas. A mix of experiences and beliefs working together on problems creates the best solutions.

Falling in lockstep with any group or strong personality results in the worst ideas – in psychological terms this is called groupthink. Here’s a definition:

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible. The problematic or premature consensus that is characteristic of groupthink may be fueled by a particular agenda—or it may be due to group members valuing harmony and coherence above critical thought. [Read more at Psychology Today]

When I think about creating and sharing beauty, peace, and joy, I think about all the millions of possibilities. In fact, some days I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas, yet I never want to limit my creativity. I want to expose myself to as many diverse ideas and people as possible. Only from swimming in this deep, multifaceted pool can I find the depths of my own creativity and participate in the collective creation of the human experience.

Groupthink destroys creativity. And without creative thinking, our still young nation is doomed. As we continue to fight a pandemic and come to grips with a contentious election season, let’s embrace our differences and become allies in creating a beautiful world.