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Responsible Freedom

Social and spiritual freedom both have associated responsibilities.

Photo B. Luceigh
Freedom of Flight
Source: Photo B. Luceigh

Perhaps it’s time for deeper discussions of freedom. Perhaps some have taken for granted that to be in a free country means we can say and do whatever, whenever, wherever and to whomever we want. Perhaps we need to be informed or reminded that freedom is coupled with personal responsibilities. Freedom must never be isolated from those responsibilities and become a misguided excuse for despicable behavior in speech or action.

The United States began with a revolutionary desire for freedom from another country. The founding fathers wrestled with the “inalienable right of liberty” at a time when some people literally owned other people. Others doubted our constitution’s organization and warned of what might destroy our original dream of a union of states.1 Our country began in a different time under different circumstances. We have been evolving from the foundations of that original dream. As with all life, evolution is vulnerable to unpredictable forces that may transform structures and processes.

Historians can recount the ever-changing past of our country. Economists can describe changes in our financial systems, lawyers our laws, politicians our rebalancing of power, sociologists our culture, and more. We have adjusted to many changes and survived. However, in my lifetime, I have not been aware of a more pivotal test of our perception of freedom than now.

First I will consider freedom and its entwined responsibilities within our society. I believe it is among my responsibilities not to knowingly say or do anything that endangers others’ lives, damages others’ property, spreads false information, incites violence, and such. I also have responsibilities to contribute to society in positive ways: to earn an honest living, obey laws, respect the rights and opinions of others, vote, behave with integrity, and such. Most responsibilities are about my relationships with other people who also live here. We need shared mores to sustain a level of order and civility in our everyday lives for the sake of all of us. In short, we must curtail some actions at the same time we openly allow others. Therein lies the basis for conflicts and the need for laws.

For me, there is another freedom I experience personally and I expect others reading this also do: spiritual freedom.2 It is the freedom to experience and express the existence of my being as a unique human. It is accompanied with responsibilities to myself as a single entity as well as to Existence as a Whole. I am responsible to attend to my spiritual longings, such as compassion for all, and to come to peaceful terms with my human fears and vulnerabilities. I also have a responsibility to maintain vigilance over my own humility. To truly experience my own existence in a universal context naturally stirs me to seek to connect to others through what is available to us all: freedom to be loving.

It is my responsibility to maintain clear access to my own inner freedom but never at the expense of others’ access to theirs. Spiritual freedom allows me to explore creative options to offer myself in service to the needs of others. I cannot and will not tolerate cruelty, self-obsession, and bigotry, for they are behaviors aimed to imprison others in unconsciousness of our higher potential as a species.

It is a challenge in these times to expand one’s freedom of the heart and open mind. It is a challenge to be fully responsible for knowing oneself so deeply that there is no fear of losing one’s inherent freedom. That freedom provides one's stability for courage, clarity, open-heartedness, wisdom, and other attributes of "The Good, The True, and The Beautiful."

It is time to become aware of the role self-responsibility has in sustaining freedom for all of us. To do otherwise is to risk being overtaken by cage-keepers who call themselves monarchs under the illusion they hold the key to a freedom we already own.

I know of no living species in the wild that is not born free. Realizing that is our human inheritance, we can meet our future with a freedom always already there. It may simply need to be uncovered in fearless acceptance of its significance. These times are an opportunity to transition to our next level of development as a cooperative free species.

It is essential to evoke our commonality of inherent freedom and the responsibilities it requires. We must not be deceived by irresponsible distortions of demagogues who attempt to separate us from our shared human treasure: freedom.

References

1 Paraphrased from “America’s Founding Fathers”, Dr. Allen Guelzo, The Great Courses, 2017

2 I am using spiritual as non-equivalent to religious. Religion implies to me an organized code of beliefs whereas spirituality is a basic human impulse connecting to the Good, True, and Beautiful of existence. Clearly religion and spirituality may superimpose, but for here I am separating them to emphasize a universal human experience irrespective of any one organized religion.

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