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How the United States Seal Promotes Sustainability


By Victoria Marino

What is your vision for the world?

My favorite person once said to me, “We’re doing life together." That is how I want to live my life. Every day. It’s what I envision for the world.

Unfortunately, our culture values individuality over unity, perceiving them as mutually exclusive. Joseph Campbell’s "The Power of Myth" speaks of a society that no longer attends to the inner life and lacks myths to live by. Without benchmarks or archetypal wisdom, we are rapt with consumer-driven desires. We have become perpetual receivers of information.

If we are to transform our culture into one that values togetherness while still appealing to individual interest, I believe the place to start is with a symbol. In the wake of recent revelations, I was moved to return to the origins of our country.

The Great Seal of our nation skillfully encapsulates the principles and ethics worth living by. Created as an official signature to enable the newly-founded nation to sign treaties, it sealed our vows to other nations. To design America’s emblem, Congress employed the acumen of Charles Thompson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress. A founding father, though not well known in our history, Thompson was esteemed by his peers for his integrity, fairness and quest for truth. To his peers, no one better embodied the nation’s vision or could as finely articulate it as Thompson. Pulling together the strongest elements of attempts from previous committees, Thompson’s final design amounted to a written description:

The Great Seal is a realization of Charles Thompson’s official specifications. The obverse side depicts liberty, freedom, independence, unity and peace. Thompson attached remarks describing the significance of his concept. Particularly noteworthy are the shield, the olive branch, the bundle of arrows and the scroll.

The 13 vertical stripes on the shield signify the states that united together under one government, represented by the blue above it. The shield characterizes the bidirectional relationship by illustrating the government’s simultaneous responsibility to unite and lead while recognizing the importance of the support the states provide. This interdependence generates strength.

The scroll reinforces this with E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. The olive branch represents peace and is specifically held in the eagle’s right talon, the traditionally stronger talon. The bundle of 13 arrows denotes the power of war and strength in unity, intentionally placed in the left talon. The eagle faces the olive branch, implying the power of peace over war, but one is to not forget the power of war and the resolution of which this nation is capable.

Thompson changed his design from an ‘eagle on the wing and rising’ to ‘display’ in his final version. I take the former to mean continuous growth. Was the change to give us pause to question development? At what point is big too big? Does expansion always lead to improvement? Is bigger better? Is it sustainable? There is value in the ability to adapt, change, grow and improve. But when can we just be? On display, as Thompson’s eagle stands? Can we have a moment to follow our bliss as Joseph Campbell advises? It is not either/or, it is a balance of both.

This world does not need a revolution. We need to wake up and remember. The seal symbolizes an ethos born from a revolution that our founders valued and lived by. But many have forgotten, or don’t talk about anymore. This is a mistake. It should not be novel to desire governments and businesses to appreciate and honor those below them that serve as pillars for their existence. It isn’t radical to prefer harmony over discord and violence. It isn’t unusual to regard individuals, communities, businesses, governments and the planet as one. We need more Charles Thompsons to comprehend truth and transparency. We need symbols and philosophies and mindsets to unite us again.

The onus is on us to live lives with accountability, integrity and love. This is a reminder for you -- you the individual, you the big corporations and you the government. As I read about the Great Seal, for the first time in countless years, I felt proud to be an American -- proud that my country was founded on such a vision. I was excited to realize that all I had to do was remind you, not convince you, to do life together.

What is your vision for the world now? What do we stand for?

Bard College MBA

Image removed.The Bard MBA in Sustainability focuses on the business case for sustainability. We train students to see how firms can integrate economic, environmental, and social objectives, the triple Bottom Line, to create successful businesses that build a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA Program will transform existing companies, start their own businesses, and pioneer new ways of operating that meet human needs, while protecting and restoring the earth’s natural systems. The Bard MBA is a low-residency program structured around “weekend intensives” with regular online instruction between these residencies. Five of these intensives are held each term: four in the heart of New York City and one in the Hudson Valley. Residencies take place over four days, beginning Friday morning, and ending Monday afternoon. Learn more today.

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