Over the past ten years or so, I have had the opportunity to think and write about this thing that we call freedom. What is this thing that we call freedom? Why should we care what freedom is and how precious it really is?
Freedom, it seems, has a different meaning for each of us. For a sixteen-year old, freedom means getting their driver’s license. It is the first opportunity they have to move beyond the boundaries of the household and explore the world on their own. But shortly after getting their license, many young people find what we eventually learn. With freedom come responsibilities. In the case of the car and the driver’s license, they find that now they must buy gas and take care of the car.
The thing that I think we have forgotten over the years is just that; with freedom come responsibilities. We fail to remember the struggles this country went through, not just in the beginning days of the American Revolution but in the early years of the country as well, in order to insure that we remained free.
It seems to some that our freedom is pretty well secure. The Soviet Union is no longer the great danger that it seemed when I was growing up and we are supposed to be winning the war against terrorism. But is the death of so many of our soldiers the price we must pay? At what point will we see that the death of our youth brings hardship and grief, not joy and celebration?
Paraphrasing the ancient historian Herodotus, “Nobody is stupid enough to prefer war to peace. Because in times of peace children bury their parents, whereas, on the contrary, in times of war parents bury their children. Our children and the youth of this country are the future, yet we are willing to sacrifice our future for the present. Do we buy our freedom for the moment just to lose in the future?
We must also remember that even the most professional soldier views war as a last resort. Robert E. Lee, commander of the southern armies in the Civil War, once commented that “it is fortunate that war is so ugly, for we could grow very fond of it.”
We use war and violence in an effort to gain freedom. But in doing so, we lose our freedom. Similarly, when we allow others to dictate the course of our lives, all in the name of preserving freedom, we quickly find that we lose our freedom.
Freedom, no matter what we might individually think, is not an individual thing. For if there is one who is oppressed, then we are all oppressed. But you say that you are free to do whatever you please. And to some extent, you might be. But your freedom to do whatever you desire stops when it prevents or impedes my freedom. At some point, we find freedom together.
So, what is this thing called freedom? How do we gain our freedom? We gain our freedom when we help others to gain theirs. In a world of violence, oppression, and injustice, we need to find non-violent means to accomplish our tasks. We have found out that violence only brings more violence and no one is free. We should be working in this world to insure that oppression and injustice no longer have a place in this world. Until we do that, we will never really know what freedom is.
But I would close by encouraging you to think about the freedom that you cherish. Will you stand back and let others take away your freedoms? Or are you willing to seek ways that will help others to find the freedom you have grown accustomed to?