Freedom from want

Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom from want” is perhaps the most iconic image of our national Thanksgiving holiday — a proud mom and pop presenting an enormous turkey to the head of a table of scrubbed family members. I had forgotten about this painting until listening to drive-time radio on my way to work and had not remembered it as anything other than an innocuous image of Americana.

As it turns out, the painting is one of a series based on FDR’s January 1941 State of the Nation speech that outlined the four fundamental freedoms necessary for democracy and peace. The four freedoms came to be the foundation of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human rights first adopted in 1948:

Freedom from want
Freedom from fear
Freedom to worship
Freedom of speech

I was led from the painting to read the speech and FDR’s words present a call to reflection and action that are as relevant today as they were 70 years ago. A sampling:

A free nation has the right to look to the leaders of business, of labor, and of agriculture to take the lead in stimulating effort, not among other groups but within their own groups...

…The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations. …

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care. We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it …we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms ... That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.

They called to mind the core values of our national holiday first celebrated 300 years ago: gratitude, distribution of bounty, working with allies, helping others. Thinking about this, led me to think about our “other” November holiday — Veterans’ Day. Even with our challenging economic circumstances, it is fair to say that the “greatest generation” was able to experience many of these aspirations (in the U.S., at least). The New Deal and the relative advantage left to the U.S. by the disrupted infrastructures of the European economies after WWII gave us a temporary competitive boost that we were able to parlay into our current economic dominance.

Roosevelt’s speech called for the need to continually adapt to changing circumstances, and certainly our times … they are a-changing. We haven’t experienced a major war in 50 years, but those who serve in the military — and especially those who are deployed — do help to secure our four freedoms put their lives on the line to represent the political and economic interests of the U.S. I am among the many who are thankful for their service and grateful that I am a citizen of a nation that has a legacy of concern with individual freedoms and collective well-being. We tend to emphasize each in different proportion depending on our circumstances.

We are at a time when we might need to adapt, as FDR suggested would be continually required, to consider a more collectivist approach. If we benefit from the service of our fellow citizens it might be a wise investment to create better on-ramps for their reintegration to civilian life

Some soldiers return from deployments only to face new struggles at home. Many are struggling to find jobs, and are eager to demonstrate how the skills they developed in the military can be adapted to fill the needs of companies.

There are efforts to connect veterans to employment. Working with local community and technical colleges, companies will offer training and access to certification in areas such as electronics, welding, and machining. No one program, however, can tackle a problem that will grow as more service members return from deployment. This presents an opportunity for corporations to demonstrate their support of the initiative demonstrated by the thousands of men and women who volunteered to serve our collective interests.

A study released in June by the Center for a New American Security based on in-depth interviews with 87 business leaders representing 69 companies indicates business is recognizing the intangibles veterans bring to the workplace. The report, “Employing America’s Veterans: Perspectives from Businesses”, reveals that executives value the attributes that veterans bring to their companies, including:

• Experience with leadership and teamwork

• Trustworthiness, dependability, and a strong work ethic

• Ability to perform and make decisions in rapidly changing circumstances

• Resilient attitude toward working in difficult environments, traveling, and relocating.

• Organizational loyalty

No doubt any company can view hiring veterans as “the right thing to do” to show appreciation for their service and offer a helping hand in a difficult environment for any job seeker. Another perspective is that hiring veterans can be “the right thing to do” for companies seeking skilled, engaged, employees who will be an asset to the business. Hiring veterans is also a tangible way that a company can reinforce its commitment to preserving the four freedoms which are so fundamental to our ability to succeed — and ensure for our veterans, the freedom from want, as they have done for us.