Being able to breathe, walk, or talk are some of the things we get used to and most often take for granted. The same happens with freedom; we are so used to choosing a religion, having access to clean water, or the right to express our political opinion that we lose sight of how valuable it is.
Rob Shallenberger: Alright, welcome back to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners. This is your host, Rob Shallenberger and this is going to be a fairly short, yet hopefully, insightful podcast, where I just really am going to share some thoughts. And in the spirit of friendship and brainstorming, I’m just going to share some thoughts with you about freedom. In the United States, this is a special week because we’re celebrating Independence Day, we’re celebrating our freedom. And I know there are people listening to this podcast throughout the world in many, many different countries and whether you’re living in a country that has freedom or not, this podcast would apply to all of us. So, it’s not just about our Independence Day, it’s about freedom across the board wherever you’re at in the world.
Freedom is one of the most basic rights we have; yet, there’s this movement afoot seemingly almost everywhere throughout the world it seems like to take away our freedoms. And I’m talking about your right to free speech, to worship how you want, to have a right to a fair trial, to have due process, and so on. All of these are a part of freedom. And I think part of the point of this podcast and for most people listening to this, you know that I was a fighter pilot for 11 years in the Air Force and I had the chance to interact with a lot of different people from many different Air Forces and countries throughout the world. And so, I’ve had the chance to really kind of see a little bit behind the curtain of a lot of these different government organizations and what’s happening and what’s afoot and what their concerns are. And one of the things that I’ve learned through the years is that freedom isn’t free, regardless of what country you’re in. And if you don’t have freedom right now, the way to earn it usually comes at a tremendous cost. If you do have freedom right now in your country, it is almost never regained without significant cost or bloodshed once it’s lost. And freedom, I really compare it to a muscle or a tendon in our body. We all have these fingers and toes and whatever, our eyes, our nose, mouth, taste. It’s really like those parts of the body, it’s one of those things we tend to take for granted until we don’t have it. Have you ever broken a bone or strained a muscle or something like that and you’re like, “Man, I didn’t realize how much I actually use my thumb”? Well, freedom is very similar. Once it’s at risk, once it’s gone we realize then what it is that we had.
And so, as we celebrate this Independence Day and really just focus on freedom for a few minutes, I want you to consider what your role is in maintaining freedom or finding freedom wherever you’re at in the world. For those of us in the United States, we’re celebrating that this week, coming up on the 4th of July. And I’ll just share a few different thoughts and then we’re going to wrap this up just with a couple of invitations.
Every year where I live here in Utah, we have this freedom gala is what it’s called. And there are these freedom awards that are given to people many times throughout the world and there are four or five freedom awards that are given. And it usually has to do with something significant that’s happened in their past that has related to freedom in some way. So, for example, if you’ve heard of the Candy Bomber during World War II, he was one of the recipients. I think it was two years ago – so a year prior to COVID – one of the Freedom Award recipients was a defector from North Korea who had ended up getting his family out and he shared briefly the story of what he and his family had gone through as they worked their way out of North Korea, China, got on a boat, sailed to the United States. And I think most of us who were listening to that North Korean defector, the person who had basically snuck out of North Korea, all of our jaws were on the floor. I mean, I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen a lot of different places, but there are the countries that I haven’t been to – North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba – some of these places where there’s a crackdown. In Cuba, while they don’t have their freedoms, it’s not North Korea. North Korea is one of the most extreme examples; or some of these other countries where there’s a total dictatorship. You don’t have that freedom. And this is what the defector said that I think it blew us all away, and it made us realize that like that thumb example or you lose your taste, you realize how valuable that was, he said he couldn’t believe it when he got to the United States and he actually went in the store and he saw all the food that was on the shelves in the aisles. He had never seen such a thing in his life, he didn’t know it existed. You could actually get food readily and choose your food in the way that we do when we walk into a store and that you could actually have fresh produce. It was amazing to him. And then running water, he’s like, “Wow”, running water in every home, couldn’t believe it. The fact that you could actually go share an opinion with someone on the street and not worry about someone coming and grabbing you and throwing you in jail. And then being able to actually access the news or the internet and search out anything you want. These were all completely foreign concepts to him. And it made us all who were sitting there listening to him that day appreciate what freedom really is.
Now, I mentioned that in the United States we’re coming up on the 4th of July, it’s the day that we celebrate independence and freedom. And so, I’m just going to reiterate a couple of thoughts here of things that we can do this week as it relates to freedom. I want to remind us again, that freedom isn’t free. So, during this Independence Day, even if you’re not in the United States, same concept; someone has earned your freedom. So, remember those who gave their lives so that you could have that freedom. Again, it doesn’t matter what your country is. If you’re free, it’s because others at some point have given their life to buy that freedom. I mean, I have several friends from the United States’ perspective who I flew with, who I spent years with, who are no longer with us. Klepto, Trojan, Bruiser, and actually many others, unfortunately. These were close friends, they had family, and man, it’s just…freedom isn’t free, it’s something that is bought with blood.
I love what Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” So, I want us to think about that. Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. And I have seen firsthand this movement that’s afoot throughout the world, to take away these freedoms and it doesn’t work. We don’t realize what that’s like to not have those and they can be lost. And so, this 4th of July, what I’m inviting us all to do, is to teach the people around us, your children, your friends, whoever you may have over at a party – but particularly at least your family – teach those people around you what it means to be free and why we have our freedom. And be grateful for it, appreciate it, realize that because we have it today, it doesn’t mean that we’ll have it tomorrow. And the only thing required for evil to win is for good men to do nothing. And so yeah, you could take that a step further, which means getting involved in our communities, and voting, and having a voice, and expressing that freedom in a way that is lawful and doesn’t hurt or harm others. I mean, that’s part of having freedom is not to infringe on other people’s physical or emotional well-being.
For those of us in the United States, I want to go back, just for the last couple of minutes here – I told you this would be short – and I want to review just a little bit of our history here in the United States. And for those outside the United States and other countries, I want you to think about your respective country in the context of what I’m about to share. Because certainly, you have similarities, there’s a lot of overlap in history of how you came to be free, if you will, in your country.
So, I want you to first take our flag. I mean, the flag is very symbolic and I’m just going to do a brief review of what it symbolizes, so that as people are putting flags up on their poles and on their houses, as we see them flying on this Independence Day, we’ll remember what these things actually stand for. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies in the United States. The stars – 50 of them – represent the states of the Union. Now the color of the flag is also symbolic; so red symbolizes hardiness and valor. Think about that. How did we get our freedom? Hardiness, valor, people that stood up for what they knew was right, their freedoms. They signed a document that basically was their death sentence had we not liberated and won that battle with Great Britain at the time. So, hardiness and valor. It takes valor to maintain freedom. The white symbolizes purity and innocence. The blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice. And I love those words – vigilance and perseverance. If we’re not vigilant about what’s happening around us, then we’re at risk of losing it. We’ve got to stand up for these principles that we know are right, we’ve got to stand up for freedom and be a voice against those who would oppose freedom and that doesn’t happen by accident. That is a conscious effort on our part to do that.
So, now that I’ve given a background on the flag, I want you to imagine on September 14th, 1814, Francis Scott Key – who many of us know – penned a poem, which was later set to music, and in 1931, it became America’s national anthem known as the Star-Spangled Banner. And I want to give you just a little bit of a better background on that, I’m going to get portions of that from the History Channel, from their website. And I want you to imagine why we are in the place where we’re at today where you have a voice, where you can walk outside and share an opinion. You can go to any church you want, or you don’t have to go to church, you have the freedom to worship how you’d like to worship. People can’t just barge into your house without a warrant and take you and arrest you like they can in Venezuela and Iran and North Korea. So, I want you to rewind the clock about 198, actually, more than that, now it’s 200 years, and imagine that you were there with Francis Scott Key when he penned that. So, let me give you a little bit of a background here. This poem, originally titled the Defense of Fort McHenry, was written after Key witnessed the Maryland Fort being bombarded by the British during the war of 1812. Now Key was inspired by this side of the alone US flag that was still flying over Fort McHenry at daybreak. And as reflected in the now-famous words Star-Spangled Banner, it goes on to say, “And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” So, I want you to think about that.
And let me give a little bit more history on this here. On June 18th, 1812, America declared war on Great Britain – most people know that – after a series of trade disagreements. In August of 1814, British troops invaded Washington DC, they burned the White House, the Capitol Building, Library of Congress, and their next target was Baltimore. So, after one of Key’s friends, Dr. Beanes was taken prisoner by the British, Key went to Baltimore, located the ship where Beanes was being held and negotiated his release. However, Key and Beanes, while on the ship, weren’t allowed to leave until after the British bombardment of Fort McHenry. So, they’ve watched this entire bombing campaign unfold from aboard the ship being located about eight miles away from what they say. And after the day the British were unable to destroy the fort, they gave up and to his astonishment, to his amazement, Key was relieved to see the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry that day. And of course, that poem, as we know it then became the Star-Spangled Banner.
And so, I want us to think about our freedom in whatever country you’re in. It came at a price. There are people who fought in battles, who gave their blood so that we could have that freedom. And in our flag in the United States, I would add one more symbolism to the flag that that red also stands for the blood of those who have allowed us to have our freedoms. And so, I hope that on this 4th of July as we fly that flag, we will remember that freedom isn’t free, that it’s never more than one generation away from being lost, that we need to exercise that voice and stand up for the principles that we know are right. Again, regardless of what country we’re in. I mentioned on a podcast two weeks ago, that we had just come back from Peru and there were two candidates running. One of the candidates wanted to nationalize all the oil and gas in the country, they wanted to keep foreign tourists out of the country – this has all the makings of a dictatorship. That person won the election. And so, he had enough votes that he was voted in by the voice of the people, he was chosen now to run the country and we’ll see how this all unfolds. But we saw the same thing happen in Bolivia and Venezuela and it simply never works. And so, on this 4th of July, let us celebrate our freedoms, let us appreciate it. I hope that we can share with our children if that applies to us or our friends, or our co-workers why this is such an important day, it’s not just a day for barbecue but it’s a day to celebrate what is so precious – and that is our freedom.
So, all of you out there, thank you for the good that you do in the world. The world needs that light that you have to offer and you are making a difference. Whether it’s leading a life by design or living a life by default, whether it’s you in your home, whether it’s in the workplace, the things you do are making a difference and having an impact. So, with that being said, I hope you have a great Independence Day, 4th of July weekend and we’ll talk with you again soon.
Leading authority on leadership and execution, F-16 Fighter Pilot, and father