In a week divided by our nation’s Independence Day, it’s important to take at least a few moments of a hectic summer schedule to remember that, as Americans, we are united by freedom. And not just the obvious freedoms we like to throw around.
Ask the average American what freedom means to them, and the answers you get would be as diverse as the people themselves. Considering the state of the nation today, you might get quite a few answers speaking to the Second Amendment of our Constitution; freedom of the people to keep and bear arms.
Others might jump on the First Amendment, with its explicit freedoms of and from religion, and freedoms of speech, of the press and of assembly and petition.
But then we get into the issue of “freedom from” and “freedom of.” They are often opposing concepts and everyone seems to have a different idea of the best way to balance them.
And there seems to be some confusion between freedom, choice and responsibility.
True freedom comes with responsibility. It is not an ego-driven agenda. In today’s society, freedom in our every-man-for-himself culture has come to mean, “whatever makes me happy is OK,” Freedom for “me” is not in any way contingent — and doesn’t even consider — freedom for you.
Have we actually gotten to a place in America where freedom has degenerated into the right of irresponsibility and of liberation from common sense? From all restraint? Where does my freedom end and yours begin if we are at opposite ends of a spectrum?
Does my freedom to live in a relatively peaceful environment end where your freedom to hold a 150-decibel Metallica concert begins?
Yes, there are some flaws in freedom. The Constitution isn’t perfect. Our founding fathers knew this. Surely what they imagined in a balanced and civilized freedom was something that did not impinge upon the freedom of one’s neighbor.
Our freedoms, such as they are, do not exist in a void. They are symbiotic. They exist interdependently, and sometimes must be self-limited in order to not interfere with the freedoms of others. When citizens do not self-limit to the extent that the safety or rights of others are threatened, government is forced to step in.
That is both the ideal and the reality of America. Each one of us enjoys a freedom all our own. We can choose to defend it by becoming an active participant, or destroy ourselves through indifference. But, when the freedom we want most is the freedom from responsibility, we will never actually be free.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
– Nelson Mandela
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