What a great line from the movie “The Princess Bride.” And what a great word for the comment to be about: inconceivable. As a still somewhat free man in a somewhat free country, I’m perplexed we’ve arrived at this point. The “constitutional” arguments we’ve experienced over the years seem inconceivable to me, as I’m sure they would be to our founders.
The concept is as simple as it gets in the Declaration of Independence: “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.”
These are the most important words in the Declaration of Independence. But in a world where we have a president who ran a campaign about the importance of words and what they mean and then turned around and supported the changing of the definition of a word that has meant only one thing its entire existence, I feel compelled to do so. Yes, this column is about marriage, but also so much more.
I’m hesitant to write this column, because I’m probably going to be accused of discrimination.
Discriminating originally meant a “person having fine taste or good judgment.” As in, “She was discriminating in her investments and retired well,” or “The Wilsons’ discriminating taste in décor makes their home a beautiful place.” This definition, while still out there, seems to be reserved for our betters, whether in social or political circles.
But now, for reasons I can’t conceive, the word’s only meaning is the negative connotation (or discrimination) of showing prejudice. And that, in and of itself, shouldn’t be a bad thing. Prejudice can indeed be healthy when it comes to criminal law; violations of unalienable rights; or when addressing a belief system that goes against anyone’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But we spend too much time trying to get our government to force our idea of happiness on others.
Discriminating also used to mean the ability to see or distinguish a difference. This is the meaning that most of us use unconsciously on a daily business. Don’t believe me? Think about your average day and where you choose to spend money. Don’t you discriminate based on where you’ve gotten good service, or where perhaps a friend works or when you go to the local coffee shop instead of the big chains (yeah, I do too)? How about when you pick red wine over white wine? How about when you picked your life partner over every other possible partner in the world? Truth is, discrimination happens every day in every life and in every decision we make.
And that’s just how it should be. No one person or business has a right to your money or to be in relationship with you just as you have no right to be in either with them. In other words, every American has an unalienable right to their property. And this comes down to the “pursuit of happiness.” It is the most used part of the declaration for a reason, because it gets to the very meaning of freedom. But do you know what phrase the pursuit of happiness comes from? It’s from John Locke’s idea that governments are in place to protect citizens’ life, liberty and property. Thomas Jefferson coining it “the pursuit of happiness” is a key ingredient in what makes America exceptional — although Jefferson himself borrowed the phrase from earlier writings, possibly Locke’s. I guess that’s why these are eternal truths and self-evident.
That brings up another word Americans mistake all too often: self-evident. Most think this to mean obvious. It doesn’t. Self-evident means that the phrase or term itself is proof of its truth. “All men are created equal” is self-evident because the procreation, birth and characteristics of all men are the same regardless of race, creed or color. It’s undeniable. And it has nothing to do with religion or God, as our founders used the term “nature’s God.” This means that no matter who or what you believe — or, for that matter, don’t believe — created the earth, it does not change unalienable rights. Now I’m thinking I’ll be called a bad Christian as well.
But no matter what anyone says, including the Supreme Court, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution included in those rights the decision to spend your life in a relationship with whomever you love. They guaranteed others the right to recognize or not recognize your relationship. And the Constitution affirms the government has no right to force anything in thought or word or deed on anyone on either side of the argument.
I urge readers to understand that it’s the machinations of people, their decisions and their beliefs that make “these truths” less and less evident in our country every day. Maybe that’s why “words” are important. If you can control what a word means, you have more control over the people in the meaning of history, laws and the social realm.
You think people who want control of words in this way want freedom? That was a self-evident, rhetorical question. We’re fighting battles that shouldn’t be fought. Everything beyond the founding documents is the loss of our rights, regardless of which side you are on.