This year's Independence Day, marking the founding of the country, occurred during perhaps the most fractious period in our nation's history since the 1960s, when the battle for civil rights and debate over involvement in the Vietnam War split Americans.
Now we're deeply split again, divided and pelted by angry partisan rhetoric from Republicans and Democrats, as well as the inflammatory tweets of our nation's elected President Donald Trump. We're split at the state level, the county and in our towns, including Taos.
We seem to have trouble agreeing on just about anything lately, incapable of really listening to those who don't agree with us and finding little in common that can bind us together as Americans. Moreover, the rhetoric has become meaner, nastier and downright dangerous - in Taos and elsewhere in the country.
Changing our rhetoric - seeking to stand by our beliefs, without damaging others with our words - is something every single one of us can do, regardless of our political persuasion.
That America's very founding was fraught with problems from day one should not be forgotten. The promise of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and the full protection of the Constitution was really only available to white men when the United States was born. It took nearly two centuries before those rights were fully extended to people of color and women, longer than that for citizens with different sexual orientations. And there was a lot of angry rhetoric in the battles to win those rights.
The birth of the American nation in 1776 also meant the destruction or near destruction of many First Nations, those that had been here for centuries before Europeans landed on these shores - uninvited and without "legal" status - seeking refuge and a new life. Men who tower as leaders and statesmen in American history today had a decidedly mixed bag when it came to the rhetoric they used toward native peoples and how they treated them.
In New Mexico, the birth of the United States meant that decades later, land grant heirs would lose some of the forests and pastures they thought were bound to them by treaty and law. Again, words mattered, this time those used in Congress and courts of law to divest people of their lands.
Still, time and again, it was statesmen and stateswomen who found the words to also help bring people together, to inspire them. They were people who articulated visions of the United States or their own communities in words that resounded broadly, crossing political, religious, economic and, at times, cultural lines. Every culture and every time period can point to one of their own whose words helped them move forward.
President Trump's tweets have inspired his supporters. But they are certainly not the words of a leader intent on moving a diverse U.S. forward as a unified citizenry.
While there's truth to the schoolyard rhyme about words hurting less than sticks and stones, words still matter.
The words we use, whether in letters, speeches, public comments or tweets, have the power to inspire or to injure, to empower or to belittle, to help or to harm.
When passions run high, as they have recently over a proposed four-story hotel in Taos, it can be hard to remember to be civil. It can be hard to find words that inspire instead of ridicule.
But if we expect our president to start practicing more statesman-like qualities representing the best, not the worst of America (and we do), we should also expect the same from ourselves and our public officials.
Taoseños, continue to speak out, but do so in a way that honors and respects that all of us love this community, even if we disagree on how to move it forward.