“These are the times that try men’s souls” was written by Thomas Paine at the beginning of the American Revolution. He continued: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
By “try,” Paine meant be tested. “Soul” refers to the principles that define one’s character. Each refers to what one stands for. The “summer soldier” is the one not there when the price for proudly wearing the uniform has to be paid. The “sunshine patriot” is the person who talks big, but when the pushing and shoving starts, says: “Let’s you and him fight.”
Paine asks each of us where we really stand. Our commitment to our principles is not only tested in the excitement of danger and the drama of risk. The times that “try” our souls are most often not in the glorious spotlight, to stirring drumbeats or in the view of admiring audiences.
The solitary decision not to strike back when you have been wronged because others could be caught in the net of your vengeance, the decision not to make yourself look good at another’s expense and to not confront someone whose misstep cost you because you realize the results were not their intent, are all examples of unacclaimed personal victories.
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Our souls are now being tried by a challenge that questions where each of us stands on our country’s domestic crisis of the presidential election’s outcome. Many are angered and frustrated. Hillary Clinton received over 2 million more popular votes than President-elect Donald Trump: more than any man ever elected to the presidency, except Barack Obama.
Some complain that Trump is not fit for the presidency. Others that the electoral system does not represent the will of the people. Many feel dismayed, discouraged and demoralized. There is talk of giving up on the political process, the American people, or leaving the country.
An online article, “Farewell, America,” wailed that we will “never be the same again” and went on about our irrecoverable loss. Since when is deserting goals, values, hopes and commitment a rational solution or admirable response to disappointment?
Marriages fail; jobs don’t work out; trusted friends don’t come through; our children don’t become what we had hoped; investments turn out to be duds; and so on. Regardless, we persevere. Who has not experienced and recovered well from losses, disappointments and setbacks? Who did not proudly regard it as evidence of their strength, character and faith in their values?
America is flawed. Our friendships, marriages, parents, children and each of us is flawed. Do you immediately give up on these things when they are not all that you want them to be? Perfection is nonexistent, and the country is more important than either political party. As Clinton said: “Stay engaged. America needs your energy, ambition and commitment.”
Trump said he wants to be president of all the people. See to it that he is.
If you are unhappy with the electoral system, make efforts to change it for the future. The idea of some of changing it retroactively is senseless. You can’t change the rules of the game because you don’t like the results. This would make rules meaningless. Besides, both sides agreed to the rules beforehand.
The game is still on. Nothing is over. America will go on, and you still have your life to live. Few things are less important in the game of life than the score at halftime. If you supported Trump, this all applies to you, as well. Over 2 million more voters wanted Hillary. Your candidate won, but he still needs your support so that he functions in such a way that those millions believe they should have voted for him. See to it that he presides so well that he deserves a second term. America needs everybody’s support.
The “try” we now each face is whether our soul will be driven by conscience and reason to struggle with the complexities of seeking the reward of our own good deeds or be driven by our dark side to bask in the pseudowarmth of our “summer” and “sunshine” anger and retaliate with rejection and abandonment, or gloat and just coast, contributing nothing.
How many kids who took their ball and went home, or who didn’t hustle, won everyone’s respect and appreciation? Or made a contribution they could be proud of?
The quality of our democracy, and the true identity of our nation, are the sum total of personal positions quietly taken by each of us at those times when me, myself and I gather to decide what it is we really believe in, stand for, and who we really are. It is each person’s own private matter of values, character and choice. It is the stuff of “soul.”
Don Farris consults with governmental agencies, businesses, and professional offices on staff development, and client, customer, and patient relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.