The Full Pursuit
By Matt Shaw
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is the plainest way of stating the Promise of America.
“Pursuit” is powerful. It implies possibility, potential. There’s no guarantee you will attain happiness—the life you want or things you hope to accomplish—but you are assured of the freedom to try.
That “right to pursue” has been inspiring citizens and drawing newcomers for hundreds of years. It is as revolutionary today as it was 244 years ago. This promise is neither a political ideology nor owned by a political party. Political ideas are by nature antagonistic. The advancement of one idea often requires the retreat of another. Pressing toward a specific policy vision or approach to governance creates opposition. This is normal. There’s a healthy push-pull, give-take tension built into American politics, even in the best version of it. That’s not a bad thing, as it often leads to balanced policies that don’t give too much favor to a single group.
But our shared promise—the freedom to pursue—is not divisive or marked by that give-take quality. I don’t have to retreat in order for you to succeed. My pursuit of that promise need not hinder you in pursuing yours. In fact, the opposite is true. As a fellow American, your full and free practice of pursuit better ensures the same freedom for me.
The freedom of speech is similar: protection of the individual right is good for all regardless of how it is expressed. I may not like what you are saying or how you are saying it, but I’ll protect your right to do so. When my neighbor’s freedom to speak is suppressed then I too have lost something essentially American.
There are hundreds of millions of us. Each pursues happiness in a different way. For one of us, the pursuit of happiness may mean a quiet life in the woods. For another, it is wealth or acclaim. For others, it may be a life of service, the raising of a healthy family, academic success, or overcoming poverty. But whatever it is, so long as it does not take rights from others, America is better when you can fully and freely pursue. As a nation we are at our best when fundamental rights are equally available for all, and worse off when they are not.
Right now we are in a crisis of unity.
We are the people of one nation without oneness. The gaps between our values as Americans is widening and common trust in our institutions has crumbled.
We have few shared experiences. We no longer watch the same news or read the same newspaper. What looks like an expansive online world is really a targeted bubble of digital sameness. Your social media stream shows people, stories, and media that either feed or inflame your existing views, not ones that expand your perspective. Community, which once consisted of dissimilar people living in a common place, has now been replaced by cavities of ideological sameness.
The dark side of the internet age is that we flip to sites and scroll to channels that tell a wholly different story than what our neighbors see; we no longer even look at the same sets of facts.
The dangerous outcome of such echo chambers is that the “other side” is so easily demonized. Many of us now sit in increasing indignation, mistrusting the motives of our fellow citizens. We eye one another suspiciously from behind discordant masks—both real and digital. We are growing colder, faster. The “bonds of affection” that once knitted us together are breaking.
For some countries this would not be as problematic. In many places, national unity comes from racial or ethnic similarity, coerced religious alignment, strong national traditions, or force from oppressive leaders.
America is different. Or at least it was meant to be. Our strength comes from what we believe and how we see one another.
Our national unity comes from allegiance to a shared set of beliefs, beginning with the United States Constitution. We insist that background, race, religion, financial status, and family heritage do not determine the fullness of one’s Americanness.
How remarkable it is that one can be born in another nation, grow up in that culture speaking that language, but then emigrate here, legally become a citizen and in that instant—with no other qualifications required—be an American. Who has just as much claim to this country’s past, present, and future as any other citizen!
Our unity comes from trust in our neighbors. We have generally assumed that our fellow citizens—whether natives or newcomers—want the best for this country. Even as we vigorously disagreed with their methods, we did not doubt their motives.
Those sources of unity are fraying. Our lack of shared values and common experiences, uneven responses to injustice, and the vilification of our neighbors has undermined that oneness. A dark distrust has made ill will our normal.
Think back two decades to the aftermath of the 9/11 attack in New York City. In the months following, ours was a single nation, bound together in our grief, aligned in our response. We mourned the losses within our borders, and assigned clear blame to the terrorist murderers. The heartland supported the coasts, and the coasts commended the heartland.
National catastrophes like this have often brought us together. Terror attacks, extreme weather, and global wars have typically united Americans. But even that has changed.
Imagine the same 9/11 attack today. Would we again be aligned, singularly focused, and warmly supportive of one another or—more likely—would we tear ourselves apart in a frenzy of accusation? One needs only to consider our contentious national response to COVID-19 for the answer. The same set of events has tens of millions of Americans blaming and mistrusting tens of millions of other Americans; warring sides accusing one another of either destructive blind submission or selfish ignorant denial.
There is much at stake. A warm civic unity doesn’t just sustain us in times of crisis, it undergirds our ability to exist as a free country. It is the glue that enables such a diverse and individualistic people to lead themselves. The nation’s founders warned that a cold nation would be unable to govern itself. Benjamin Franklin cautioned that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
Like the silent spreading virus, American disunity seems not to matter at first. Our divisions smolder silently, fed more and more by messages of sensational certainty. But then it explodes out, first with weaponized words. We vilify, we narrowly label, we are unable to listen. It is us against them, and they must be beaten—and beaten hard. Everywhere we see enemies within our borders. And on our streets. Violence against political opponents becomes acceptable. Protestors and counter protestors meet one another armed with clubs, shields, and flaming bottles, each side certain they are the true defenders of the American way. Greater conflict is near. We are heavily armed, expectant, and ready.
Abraham Lincoln said it well, that we are more likely to “die by suicide” than from foreign attack or external forces. In our accelerating crisis of unity and trust, that now seems possible. The gun is loaded. The noose is tied.
For those who are not professional politicians, America usually takes care of itself.
The role of ordinary folks has just been to live our lives capably and quietly, pursing the best version of the American Dream for ourselves. And it has worked. The country has grown and thrived thanks to a founding framework that leans toward justice, culture that releases opportunity, and people whose aims are upright. For much of our history, simply attending to one’s own life and business and particular calling has often been the best way to serve the country.
However, there have been times when sharp intervention is required.
The work of abolitionists during the first half of the nineteenth century was such a time. They were ordinary men and women, black and white, usually not elected leaders. In homes, churches, and in the public square, they pressed for reform. Over time their ranks grew. The sickness of slavery required a multitude of physicians.
Now again is such a moment. The reigning sickness of our time is this condition of the American people. It is our division, our loathing, and our mistrust of one another.
America is no longer taking care of itself. For us to survive as a people, ordinary citizens must intervene for unity. We must fight for it.
The Full Pursuit
In our moment, the trusted tools of debate, logic, and protest will not work. For now, the facts don’t matter. A louder voice will not be heard and a better-reasoned argument will not be understood. A different toolkit must be brought to bear. It is called the Full Pursuit.
Our path forward is in the Pursuit. What has long been an individual practice, the pursuit of happiness, must become a unifying purpose that ties us together.
Already, the promise of the pursuit is transcendent: it exists above the divisions of politics, race, class, gender, and country of origin. Already, the promise of pursuit is a shared foundation for all Americans. The promise of pursuit has the power to bind us into one; even as we build upon it in unique ways and our paths sharply diverge, the common base remains.
We still share this in common as a general foundation. Now we must take it up with vigorous purpose. My individual pursuit must now grow into the Full Pursuit: an approach to citizenship that simultaneously celebrates and seeks good for others.
The Full Pursuit American is committed to seeking the individual freedom of pursuit in the lives of all other citizens. They live it for themself, honor it in the other, and restore it where absent.
The Full Pursuit is the intentional practice, honor, and protection of the pursuit as a necessary right for all Americans. It is a commitment that begins as an inward decision and flows outward as a way of living in America that strengthens individuals, restores civility, and builds trust. It is outward and visible. Unifying; but not oppressive. It elevates what is already shared.
A Full Pursuit America is not just a nation of restored civility and unity, a nation with less partisanship and bickering. It’s a better America altogether. It is perpetually fixing what is broken and reclaiming what is lost. This America is a country whose people are committed to freedom, for themselves and all others. It is a country that finally, truly lives up to its charter: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Though the hour grows late, all is not lost. American oneness can be restored.
Live it. Honor it. Restore it.
Live It For You
Pursue happiness. Doing so benefits you, community, and country. Every path is different, and as a Full Pursuit American you know that only you can practice the pursuit for yourself. This is the heart of the American Dream. In this nation you have an unmatched freedom to pursue that calling, build that business, and practice that faith. Break the addiction. Get the degree. Marry that person. Own a home. Own many homes. Or own nothing. Live simply. Live a life of service. The promise of this nation guarantees that blank canvas of possibility. Pursuit it and find purpose.
Honor It In The Other
Look for the pursuit in others. See it in your neighbor’s life, and honor them for it. Honor the pursuit in the Other—the one whose politics, style, accent, race, origin, and education are different from yours. You do not need to agree with their goals or politics or approach to salute the Americanness of their effort. See what they are doing, and honor the effort in it. Crossing the ideological or social divide to celebrate the Other does not diminish the integrity of your distinctive beliefs. It accomplishes the greater good of affirming that the individual life is more valuable than the dividing idea.
In the grocery store, on streets, in the office, in the online world, and at the family reunion, we can celebrate others in their pursuit. It doesn’t cost money. It doesn’t take much time. It begins with noticing, looking past the superficial noise, and spotting that which is worthy of celebration. And then speak or write the good you have noticed. Speak it to them, speak it to others about them and in front of them. Honor their pursuit in them and restore civility.
Restore It Where Absent
When one’s free pursuit has been oppressed, or stolen, or forgotten, we must work toward its restoration. When we see a person who has been kept from the free pursuit of happiness through oppression, then we work to undo those bonds of injustice. When we see a person who never believed at all that the pursuit is for them, then we help awaken it. When we encounter one who has known the pursuit but through choice or circumstance has lost it, then we partner to restore it.
A woman mired in homelessness, certain she will never know a better life, needs Full Pursuit Americans to help restore her hope. What might this look like? An inspired citizen may gather a dozen of her friends, and create a focused mini-network of support for this individual. Together, they would pool time and money to provide her with a lifeline of emergency housing, medical and mental health care, and the nurture of loving relationships until she has reclaimed stability, and is able to see and act on hope of a better life. This group of Full Pursuit Americans are not charitable donors, but are restorers of the promise for a fellow citizen.
A man oppressed by racism, jaded by the hypocrisy of centuries-long duplicity, needs the partnership of Full Pursuit Americans to awaken his belief in the promise of America. How might this look? It may begin with listening. Active, generous, and repetitive listening from people who are willing to share the burden of his disappointment. From that listening may come joint actions grounded in a mutually-honoring relationship.
Poverty, broad injustices, and subtle oppression have kept millions from fully experiencing and knowing the joy of pursuit. But the temptation may arise to only restore it for those who are “deserving.” This must be avoided. Either extending or withholding restorative partnership based on merit, grievance, or other subjective qualifications creates further disunity. We restore their pursuit for one reason only. Because they are Americans.
Restore the pursuit and restore America.
Full Pursuit Convictions
The Full Pursuit is a framework that you bring to life. It takes shape in many diverse forms. Though its expressions differ, the twin convictions of hope and honor provide essential guardrails.
Hope is an optimistic, forward-looking force that wards off discouragement, sees the best, and supplies grit. Hope pulls on its boots in the morning, stands up straight, and fights through opposition. Hope looks at a battered life and sees the possibility of renewal. Hope looks at failure and sees opportunity. Hope stirs up courage and protects clarity of vision. Hope ensures a hungry mind, a willing heart, and an eager ear. Hope expects that enemies can become friends, walls can be torn down, and cracks be mended.
An active and unexpected display of honor toward another is a unifying, creative force for healing. Through word and deed, your every encounter can impart dignity to others. The giving of honor requires humility, which protects one against complacency and self-deception, and which stirs curiosity, opens doors, and warns against disaster. Honor, shown generously, has the power to establish kinship with strangers. The coldness of fear is thawed by a spirit of honor. The honor of all others at all times is critical for our national restoration.
The Full Pursuit America
Achieving a Full Pursuit America—one that is unified, just, vibrant—happens one day at a time, one person at a time, one deed at a time, and one word at a time. It is an opportunity for every American, each with an equal stake.
It is the work of peacemakers and the work of warriors. It is the work of the bridge builders and homemakers. It is the work of the heroic, the gentle, and the gentle heroes. It is the work of the celebrity and the meek. It is the work of those who reject the culture of narrow labels and quick assumptions. It is the work of the eloquent and the simple, of the expert and the beginner. It is the task of the young, who are full of idealism. And the task of the aged, who have seen much. It is the work of Americans of every race, background, social position, and country of origin.
In short, this is for you.
With hope and honor, pursue happiness for yourself, honor the pursuit in the Other, and vigilantly restore it where lost. No special qualifications required. Realizing the promise of this future great nation requires the purposeful and active work of every American who would join. From the native-born to the newest citizen, any who wish to see a nation unified and made better, can do so by practicing The Full Pursuit.
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Copyright Full Pursuit 2020
What | Who | How
To inspire and gather Americans to purposefully restore national unity.
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About Matt Shaw
The author is a hopeful American. He lives in South Carolina with his wife Lana and their three kids. More.
Copyright Full Pursuit 2020