Did this clause of the Constitution confuse you when you first learned it, in particular that part about treaties:
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the US., shall be the supreme law of the land
The part about treaties puzzled me when I first learned it. We’re talking some time around junior high, so I’m drawing on distant memories, but I remember thinking that if the Constitution was about how the government worked with the people in the country, why would it value treaties with other countries over internal laws?
It didn’t take long to realize that no other countries would work with a country that didn’t honor its word to others.
Over the years, I’ve come to agree with this perspective and apply it to my life. For example, a principle of leading people I’ve found critical is to put the interests of the people I intend to lead and serve first, which this clause seems consistent with. People don’t want to follow someone who puts his or her interests before the team’s. If they do, you worry that when times get difficult, they’re liable to abandon the team in favor of themselves—and difficult times are when we want effective leadership most.
One example where I apply this principle of valuing others’ interest is in consuming natural resources. Consider turning on an air conditioner. It makes you comfortable in the moment, but uses energy, which causes a plant to burn coal, which puts carbon dioxide, mercury, and other pollution in the atmosphere, which hurts other people, especially kids and future generations. When I tell people about this consideration they tell me it makes sense, though they don’t think it through themselves so much. I think that’s because most people didn’t learn enough science to understand how conservation of energy works, like they think they can sneak a little energy use here or there and no one will notice, as if people noticing was the problem. (Pollution affects us whether people notice the polluting act or not.)
Unlike a treaty, I haven’t signed contracts with all these other people, but I still prefer living by the principle of minimizing hurting other people, even if the law lets me and many others don’t extend me the same consideration.
You can apply the same principle to many other places—business deals, personal relationships, whose turn it is to do the dishes, and so on. I recommend it.
I write this because I still think about that principle of the Constitution regularly. Maybe not every time I turn on a light, but often. The thoughtfulness of its framers continues to impress me.
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