Perhaps the foremost value that Americans cite as central to democracy is equality -- that we’re all created equal. Americans also value placing the good of the country and its collective citizenry above individual interests. A third core value of American democracy is expressed by the national motto E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many — one.” This motto was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1782 and started appearing on coins in 1786. In its most literal sense, the motto means that a single nation emerged from the union of the thirteen colonies. Many Americans interpret it to mean “unity in diversity,” i.e., that out of the multitude of people with different backgrounds and beliefs comes the commonality and unity of being citizens of the United States.

These three core values of American democracy appear in the work of meditation teachers Ed and Deb Shapiro. In Be the Change, the Shapiros make the case for meditation in action, i.e., small acts of kindness:

“When we see beyond our own ego-needs and become aware of our connectedness with all beings, reaching out beyond ourselves becomes a natural and spontaneous expression of who we are. Rather than grasping at what we can get for ourselves, our first response is the care of others.”

We can set the intention to cultivate the democratic values of equality, common good, and unity in diversity, as well as the democratic virtues of inner peacefulness and generosity of spirit of which the Shapiros write, by performing kind actions every day. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Smile at everyone you cross paths with throughout your day.
  • Let someone in a hurry go ahead of you in line at the coffee shop or the grocery store.
  • Put quarters in parking meters on either side of your car.
  • Hold a door open for someone.
  • Buy the next person in line a treat or pay for their meal the next time you’re in a drive-through.
Habib Todd Boerger, Deb Shapiro, Ed Shapiro in Practicing Democracy in Your Neighborhood by Habib Todd Boerger