Declaration of Independence established guiding star for catalyzing society toward equality and liberty
- Written by Brent Duncan, PhD
The Declaration of Independence upon which the United States of America was founded provides a compelling example of how to define a vision statement. In short, a vision statement is not something that states reality but that creates a dissonance that inspires individual and collective action to advance toward achieving a shared vision.
The Declaration of Independence established a vision that "all men are created equal", with inherent rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While this established individual liberty as a core value of American identity, compromises made to drive ratification of the United States Constitution allowed for slavery to exist in American society. Even deeper, the concept equality and liberty for all was a unique, revolutionary, concept that was arguably contrary to the nature that had driven development of cultures throughout human history.
In the United States, the vision of equality for all and liberty for individuals did not trigger instant change in human nature and society. But, it did plant the seeds of societal dissonance that contributed to a Civil War, culminating in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which restated a commitment to American values as being “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.
As with the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address neither changed human nature nor ushered in an equal society. What it did was serve to reinforce a vision for coalescing individuals to take collective action. Continuing disconnects between values and behaviors contributed to the Civil Rights movement with a vision summarized by Martin Luther King as “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’”.
Again, riots, restatement of principles, and assassinations did not suddenly transform human nature, but they helped to emphasize conflict between values and actions within American society, while serving as catalysts for transforming societal action to work toward closing the dissonance through legislation, legal action, and societal pressure to advance toward a society that embodies equal justice for all and liberty for each.
The vision of equality established by Declaration of Independence continues to generate conflict as society works to close the dissonance between emerging reality and the shared vision. This illuminates the value of a compelling vision statement. The Declaration provided a guiding star toward which a nation could organize and advance, but could never be reached, without removing another essential element of the vision: individual liberty. As a society, Americans can mark conflicts and milestones along the journey, but the vision established by the Declaration is a guiding star, not a destination.
In short, as with all good vision statements, the Declaration provided a guiding star for catalyzing action toward an ideal that can be worked towards but never fully attained.