For most of my life, I’ve lived in a country with a proud and shameful history. Wonderful things still happen here, but it’s easy to remember the bad: most of us are in debt. New plagues of digital addictions and near-useless information (or worse) assault many of us, daily. Do not forget the growing disparity of wealth, spiraling mental health, and rising gun violence.
Is it sad that with those last two words alone, you immediately know what country I live in?
A clever man once wrote:
“Happy is the nation without a history.”— Cesare Beccaria
The United States has plenty of history: hundreds of years of slavery, millions killed in countless wars, ongoing ecological destruction, and so on. How are we to celebrate our nation, when we have so much to be ashamed of?
I’ll tell you how.
Why I’m Celebrating This 4th of July
Show me two people who agree on the meaning of “freedom,” and I’ll show you two liars.
The United States declared its independence in 1776. For the next 89 years, the very people who believed “that all men are created equal” still had slaves. For the first 144 years of my country’s existence, women couldn’t vote. And today, my country is still making mistakes that we’ll regret for generations to come.
But to me, this day marks something special. A few people got together, at great risk, and agreed to stand by an ideal as ancient as the human species: to strive for a better future.
As human beings, you and I are members of the most complicated, terrible, wonderful, creative, destructive, and influential lifeforms that have ever existed (at least, to our knowledge). No matter how awful our history, there is always a way to make life better.
That is what I celebrate, today: despite—and because of—my country’s past, it has a future. Today, I remember I am are surrounded by endless opportunities to become better.
Fortunate is the Nation with a Future
We have the rare ability to create our own goals—our own meaning. No other being can do this (that we know of). Creation is the rarest gift in the universe. And, as a species, it is our greatest talent.
No matter where you stand now, your future remains unwritten. You may not be able to change the world, but you can change your world.
I love this ideal so much, I put it into every book I’ve written thus far:
- In The Last Human, the hero must come to terms with the fact that he is the last of his kind. There will be no more humans, ever. And yet, he strives to make life better for the worlds left behind.
- In Book 2, Agraneia loathes herself for what she and her people did to the “lesser” aliens. And yet, when she meets one of these people—and he forgives her—she starts to see a new future for herself.
- And Fantastic Characters, my guide for authors, shows writers how to craft characters who struggle and fight for what they believe, inspiring readers to do the same in their own lives. We love characters who grow because we, too, love to grow.
It’s so easy to recall the tragedies and regrets of the past. But what do you see in your future?
I hope you see what a rare chance it is to have a future in the first place. And then again, to have the power to direct your future? That is the rarest chance of all.
A piece of destiny is in your hands, right now. Look at it. Wonder at it. Today, and this year, and every year to come—you get to write the story of your future. What will you choose to say?