I work in healthcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams I work with have been called heroes in so many ways. You have seen the images of nurses and doctors pulling extra shifts – exhausting themselves to the breaking point and beyond. They appear powerless at times because they can only respond to the needs of the patients. But the opposite is also true: Healthcare workers hold enormous power. You allow them to do things to your body that nobody else can. They have an expertise that is hard to question and most of the time you consent to a course of action that you only half understand. That is what healthcare ethics call a “power differential”.
It was a power differential that the 13 colonies of 1776 were no longer willing and able to accept. The Declaration of Independence lays out their lengthy list of grievances where the powerful British Empire took unfair advantage of the vulnerable colonists. In the closing paragraph they “solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved.” The path forward is to be one of separateness.
But the Declaration of Independence does not stop there. It closes, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” By creating this new country, by running away from that old abusive relationship, we come together as a community. This is not rugged individualism, this is not winner-takes-it-all. This is not us-versus-them. This is mutual respect and responsibility. This is unity. And yes, in 1776 those were only white men. We are still struggling to live up the the promise and pledge that we gave ourselves that the power differential shall not divide us. As Americans, we ought to treat one another with the respect that mutual healthcare models. We are all each other’s patient.
Over the past few years I have reflected on the Declaration of Independence in other contexts:
2018 When in the Course of Human Events
2017 Brexit 1776? – Happy Independence Day!
2016 A decent respect to the opinions of mankind
2015 Obergefell v. Hodges
2014 Don’t Mess With Texas
2012 Declaration of Independence pushing for immigration