The four Norman Rockwell prints behind him, and Franklin Roosevelt’s words, remind Larry Martin that we could all use more kindness, equality, inclusiveness, and love.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am at heart an optimist. I see the glass as half full and always believe that better days lie ahead. While old man Potter might say “sentimental hogwash,” I have always believed in the promise of America and the dream of a better life that attracted my grandparents to this country’s shores.
Since I was a child, I have loved the illustrations of Norman Rockwell. He captured the world not exactly as it is but as it could and should be and at times, who we are at our best.
Several years ago, my wife, Martha, gave me for Christmas prints of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. They hang in my office today. Inspired by the State of the Union address given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Rockwell created four paintings. Collectively these works illustrate the freedoms that Roosevelt believed were essential human rights that should be universally protected at a time of great international peril.
Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear shows parents tucking their children into bed. The folded newspaper in the father’s hand hints at the tragedies of the day. The painting remains relevant now as we face our own war with an invisible invader.
Freedom from Want may be Rockwell’s most famous of the four paintings, reflecting a family gathering for a holiday meal. Today, it is a reminder to me that not since the Great Depression have so many people, both at home and abroad, gone without some of humankind’s basic needs.
Freedom of Worship will always remind me of a day in 2012. While my family and I were worshiping in our church, other families, only 90 miles away at a Sikh Temple, were being shot and killed simply for who they were and for the faith in which they believed.
As for Freedom of Speech, today there seems to be a great demand to be heard but not a lot of tolerance for listening. So much of the public conversation is about tearing someone down rather than using words that will unite us and bring together diverse communities. It seems that many Americans, of a variety of political beliefs and ideologies, have become intolerant of ideas not their own. I was taught that no single group or political thought had a corner on wisdom.
As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s 244th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII in the Pacific, Roosevelt’s words and Rockwell’s paintings remind us that our world could always use more kindness, equality, inclusiveness, and, dare I say, love. The virtues and ideals of the Four Freedoms are as relevant as ever.
What does this have to do with the State Bar? Possibly nothing, but maybe everything. I have always looked to the legal community as one of the fundamental pillars that helps to hold our society together, advancing the principles of democracy by being the guardians of the rule of law and the underlying principles that founded our nation. It is what truly makes our country great and something each Independence Day worth celebrating.