How Do We Define Freedom?

Reilience skills of communication and finding purpose and meaning are necessary.

Posted Jan 13, 2021

The New Oxford American Dictionary definition of freedom is the “power or right to act, speak or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” What is your definition? What does the word "freedom" mean to you? How should freedom be exercised? And do you think that one of the purposes of the government of the United States is to ensure that people in this country have the freedom to act, speak or think as they want?

Realistically, there have always been limits to our freedom. One of the purposes of government is to make laws and to ensure that they are enforced. Relative to freedom, this means that we do not have the freedom to terrorize or endanger others. For example, we have laws against drunk driving. We have laws that require drivers and their passengers to wear a seat belt. In some states, there are laws that require a motorcycle rider to wear a helmet.

Freedom has traditionally been linked with the idea of responsibility. George Bernard Shaw expressed this succinctly, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” It is an existential concept. To be free means that one has the burden of making choices and decisions. And in making those decisions and choices, we are responsible for both our own and others’ freedom.

The right to act freely and speak freely should end when it endangers others’ rights to do the same. This country is in crisis. Interestingly enough, it is a crisis over how we define freedom in this country. Each one of us needs to ask ourselves our definition of freedom and what limits, if any, should be imposed on our freedom.

This has been demonstrated clearly to us in the last few weeks, specifically in regard to the pandemic. Do Americans have the right to decide if they should wear a mask in public or if they should social distance? Many would say no. If the behavior endangers others, then they do not have the right to engage in it.

Restrictions on an individual's behavior as it relates to the health of other people is not new. If we recognize a public health danger to ourselves and others, we should act to eliminate it. This is why smoking in public places has been banned in most areas in this country. We do not have the freedom to endanger others.

Creating meaning and purpose in our lives and in our institutions is a critical part of being resilient, and God knows we need resilience at this point in time.