Following the Civil War, Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. General John Logan called for a day of remembrance, for all of the lives that were lost during the Civil War, which to date, maintains the highest American casualty total of any conflict. As the years progressed and lives were lost due to other conflicts, Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day, and Memorial Day officially became an American holiday in 1971. The holiday is celebrated on the last Monday of the month of May and is now meant to honor the men and women whose lives were lost while serving in the United States military.
Memorial Day is now celebrated to commemorate all American military personnel who died while serving in any of the wars. While many enjoy the day off that Memorial Day brings and gather together for BBQs and a time of rest and relaxation, the holiday is really meant to highlight and honor the sacrifices that were made for the freedoms that we enjoy. This is why we celebrate.
The meaning of sacrifice is to give up something of value for the sake of something regarded as more important or worthy. This is the tenet behind Memorial Day. Sacrifice begets altruism, or the quality of focusing on something other than oneself. However, we as a society have gradually and increasingly moved to focusing more on the needs of the individual rather than on the collective interest.
This has moved us away from the principles of sacrifice and altruism. If we conceptualize this in terms of a scale, where one end is selfishness and the other is unselfishness, the practice of altruism and sacrifice would move us toward the unselfish end of the scale. Living in the unselfish end of the scale, can in effect help to restore our faith in humanity.
While Memorial Day is a great opportunity for self-reflection on the way we are conducting our lives, taking the time to consider this as a general practice is highly recommended. When we reflect on the way that our decisions and choices impact others, this can have far reaching effects that extend beyond just the individual. Living our lives in a way that reflects adherence to a set of values or tenets strengthens the individual and positively informs the collective interest. Having these conversations with our kūpuna, those who have lived through periods in history that required shared sacrifice, would provide a rich perspective. Talking with spiritual leaders or other friends who have kindred values would be another great avenue to take.
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