Freedom was the one word that defined the dreams of our nation’s Founding Fathers, the word that continues to echo through the hearts of every American into every crevice of the world. We wear our freedom like a birthright, proudly, humbly, sometimes arrogantly but always gratefully. But even as a birthright, our freedom these days seems at times to present more of a challenge than feel like a gift.
Freedom of speech, of religion, of choice of relationships are fighting their own wars presently. Political correctness seems to impose a gag rule on both the spoken and written word; bias, fear and often ignorance measure one religion against another; and same-sex relationships struggle for acceptance and understanding. On a broader scale, government surveillance threatens to trespass upon individual privacy, while the reach of terrorist madness tightens around us all.
Down the ages, philosophers, scholars, poets and politicians have extolled freedom with varying levels of intensity and insight. One of them, Charles Kingsley, a priest of the Church of England, historian and a confidant of Charles Darwin, stated, “There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.”
Kingsley clearly and tersely pinpoints that true freedom is weighted with responsibilities. And there are few more credible words regarding those responsibilities than that of Nelson Mandela: “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.”
Freedom, like justice, is a reaching-out word. To find its true meaning, freedom needs to embrace more than the individual who lives in and appreciates it. Those who know true freedom realize it must be shared with a wider world, knowing that another’s freedom is as priceless as one’s own. Those who are not free are not just the oppressed, the enslaved, the abused but also those who claim a false freedom for themselves while imprisoned by addiction, be it power, money, sex, drugs, etc.
Those to whom freedom is a gift need to know it is not given lightly; those who struggle to gain it quickly learn freedom is not attained easily; but for those for whom freedom remains a dream, it is up to those who live it to help those dreams come true.
Albert Camus pinpointed the challenge all free people face when he wrote, “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better” – strong, blunt words for any Fourth of July.