Near the beginning of The Declaration of Independence, these words appear.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
It is here, a 30 second read into the birth of our nation, we find the most important right which government is to secure, the Pursuit of Happiness.
The Declaration establishes three foundational rights. The Constitution generally amplifies them, outlining ways government may not prevent us from exercising them. Our Right to Life is partially expressed in our Right to Keep and Bear Arms to defend that Life if threatened. Our Right to Liberty is partially expressed in our Right to Due Process to ensure any restraint on that Liberty is just.
One Right listed in the Declaration is different. It has no amplification in the Bill of Rights. The least discussed, it is the most important – the Pursuit of Happiness.
The Pursuit of Happiness is different in that it guarantees nothing. Other Rights we enjoy enumerate a concrete something. We have Freedom of Speech. Speech is a “something” that is mine. Just so with Life, Liberty, to Bear Arms, the Press – at the end of each we find something tangible. Not so with the Pursuit of Happiness.
Pursuing Happiness is the only Right which does not define an outcome. We are not guaranteed Happiness, just the Pursuit of it. We are not assured the road will not be difficult or poorly maintained, merely that it is there to be traveled. Because of this, the Pursuit of Happiness is our most precious Right. Because phrased another way, it guarantees our Right to Fail.
Happiness is different for every man. Our dreams are as individual as we are. It would have been folly to try to define Happiness; folly to determine the best path to Pursue it. Pursuits may be long or short; easy or difficult; straightforward or complicated. While I am grateful for the straightforward, short and easy ones, it is the value in the complicated, long and difficult ones which the Declaration anticipated. Because the Pursuits teaching us the most, both building and revealing character; producing the most opportunity for us, are the difficult ones or the ones we fail to complete at all.
Thomas Edison tried over 4,000 different prototypes of the light bulb before realizing his goal. He is reported to have said, “I have not failed 4,000 times. I have discovered 4,000 ways not to create an incandescent light bulb!” Undaunted by failing in his Pursuit, Edison learned from each. It was because of, not in spite of, his failures, that he succeeded. Even the simplest Pursuits face obstacles. A man’s response to them determines not just his success in Pursuit of that specific Happiness. It determines his success for all future Pursuits as well.
Do we persist in adversity? Do we work as hard in anonymity as we do in the limelight? Do we collaborate or insist on solo Pursuits? There are a myriad lessons to be learned. Most of them are only learned through failure. As it is said, “Most good judgement comes from experience! Most experience comes from bad judgement!”
It is here where a man’s success or failure in his various Pursuits is determined. Because along with recognizing man’s Rights, the Declaration notes men institute government to secure them and that government does so only with the consent of the governed. It thus becomes vital for the governed to so value the Right to Fail they refuse to consent to any plan by government to take it from them. They must consent to striving in an environment, secured by government, in which failure is a valued result.
If We The People consent to government which takes away our Right to Fail, we consent to government which will take away our other Rights as well. Securing a government with power to eradicate our individual Pursuits, we secure a government with power to define our individual Happiness. When Happiness is defined for the many by government, individuals must surrender the rest of their Rights to facilitate the government’s Pursuit. Those refusing to do so are threats both to government and the governed. We all know how threats are dealt with.
This is the question Americans must answer. Will we be allowed to fail or not? The Left, and far too many on the Right, say, “No! No one must fail!” There remains, however, a minority which understands the value in failure. It understands the pain in little failures along the way are motivation to great Happiness at the end of the Pursuit! It understands failure is not an impediment to Happiness, it is a stepping stone to a successful Pursuit. It knows temporary suffering in a failure while Pursuing does not compare to the eternal suffering in failing to Pursue at all.
Celebrating your Independence today, understand what it means to be Independent! It means your success or failure in the Pursuit of Happiness depends on you, not the government. It means you not only can, but will, fail while in Pursuit. When your Rights are secured by government and not defined by it, you embrace failure as a blessing and not a curse, as a teacher and not a thief. You truly have Life, you are truly at Liberty, you have the best chance for a successful Pursuit!
In college, I hung a poster on my wall which read, “A ship in a harbor is safe. But that is not what ships were made for!” Enjoy your Pursuit! Godspeed!